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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death was a homicide, police said Sunday, but authorities stopped short of saying it was a murder-suicide committed by the 20-year-old girlfriend found dead by his side.
McNair, 36, was shot four times, twice in the head and twice in the chest, by a semiautomatic pistol, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said during a news conference.
The woman, Sahel Kazemi, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head and the pistol was found under her body, Aaron said.
Aaron said the two had been in a “dating relationship for the past several months.”
Asked if the deaths could have been caused by a lover’s quarrel, Aaron said, “That’s a very important part of the investigation as we work to ultimately classify Miss Kazemi’s death.”
Police said they need to do more interviews with friends of Kazemi and McNair before they rule on whether her death was a suicide, Aaron said.
McNair, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was married with four children. He and Kazemi were found dead Saturday afternoon at a Nashville condominium he shared with a friend, and police said Sunday that it appears the two died in the early morning.
He was discovered in a seated position on a sofa in the living room; Kazemi was nearby.
Nashville police said Saturday night that they weren’t actively looking for suspects, and also did not believe McNair’s wife was involved.
Mechelle McNair, mother of two of his four sons, was expected to collect her husband’s belongings from authorities. Funeral arrangements were not expected to be finalized until Monday afternoon at the earliest.
“She’s still very upset, very distraught,” said McNair’s agent, Bus Cook.
McNair led the Tennessee Titans within a yard of forcing overtime in the 2000 Super Bowl, which they lost 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams. He also played two seasons for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in April 2008.
“I’m still in shock since hearing the news yesterday. I spent all afternoon and night thinking about my life on and off the field with Pops,” Titans quarterback Vince Young said. “Since I was a teenager, he was like a father to me. I hear his advice in my head with everything I do. Life will be very different without him.”
McNair’s rugged style led to numerous injuries and aches. He played with pain for several years, and his old-school ability to endure it made him legend. A common refrain among former teammates and coaches who spoke about McNair following his death was the description of him as a “warrior.”
“Steve and I had a mutually respected friendship. He was one of the great warriors to ever put on a football uniform at any position,” former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon said. “His competitiveness and toughness were unparalleled. He was always a gentleman, and very giving off the field. One of the great people in our league was taken from us way to soon.”
Added former Titans safety Blaine Bishop: “Steve was an absolute warrior as a player and brought that mind-set to the team. Whether he was hurt or not, he was going to give us everything he had. He was the toughest player that I ever played with . . .The thing I will always remember about him was whether it was a good or bad on the field, the whole team — both offense and defense — believed he would lead us to victory if we could just get the ball in his hands at the end of the game.”
In June, McNair had opened a restaurant in Nashville, near the Tennessee State University campus. The restaurant was closed Saturday evening, but had become the site of a small memorial, where flowers, candles and notes had been placed outside the door.
Friends declined to describe the relationship between McNair and Kazemi, who was a waitress at Dave & Buster’s, a sports bar and entertainment restaurant in Nashville, where the two apparently first met.
A man who answered the door at a house in the Jacksonville, Fla., suburb of Orange Park said it was the home of Kazemi’s family, but said her relatives did not want to comment.
“We don’t have anything to say, please leave us alone,” the man said.
But a Nashville neighbor saw McNair at Kazemi’s apartment so often — two to three times a week — that she thought McNair had moved in. McNair never tried to hide his presence, but he did keep to himself.
Neighbor Reagan Howard said Kazemi often was dropped off in the early morning hours by a limousine, and recently had upgraded from her Kia to a Cadillac Escalade.
“It was pretty obvious that she was taken with him,” Howard said.
McNair and Kazemi had been together just two days earlier, when she was pulled over while driving a 2007 Escalade registered to her and McNair. She was arrested on a DUI charges; McNair, who was a passenger in the car, was allowed to leave in a taxi.
An arrest affidavit from Thursday said Kazemi had bloodshot eyes and alcohol on her breath when she was pulled over, but refused a Breathalyzer test, telling police “she was not drunk, she was high.”
According to The Tennessean, McNair later bailed Kazemi out of jail.
The bodies were discovered Saturday afternoon by McNair’s longtime friend, Wayne Neeley, who rents the condo in the upscale Rutledge Hill neighborhood with McNair.
Neeley then called Robert Gaddy, who had been friends with McNair since they played at Alcorn State. Gaddy was the one who alerted authorities.
“It was like something you might imagine seeing on TV or in the movies, but never imagine you would see it firsthand, to have that happen to someone you love. I am still shook up,” Gaddy told The Tennessean.
Cook, McNair’s agent, said he was not aware that his client was seeing Kazemi, a woman whose name he learned about through reports of the shooting.
“It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what to say,” Cook said.
Police said a witness saw McNair arrive at the condo between 1:30 and 2 a.m. local time Saturday and that Kazemi’s vehicle was already there. The condominium is located within walking distance of an area filled with restaurants and nightspots, a few blocks from the Cumberland River and within view of the Titans’ stadium.
Fred McNair, Steve McNair’s oldest brother, said some family members likely would travel to Nashville on Monday.
“It’s still kind of hard to believe,” Fred McNair said. “He was the greatest person in the world. He gave back to the community. He loved kids and he wanted to be a role model to kids.”
McNair and his wife split their time between Nashville and their farm in Mount Olive, Miss., according to a statement from the Titans.
“People have certain things that they do in life,” Gaddy told The Associated Press. “We don’t need to look on the situation at this time [but] on the fact we just lost a great member of society.”
Kazemi’s ex-boyfriend, Keith Norfleet, told The Tennessean newspaper that he and Kazemi had dated for about four years, but broke up five months ago. He said he was concerned about her dating a married man, the newspaper reported.
“She is the sweetest girl, and she did not deserve this,” Norfleet said upon learning of her death. “He was making her believe they were going to be together and everything would be perfect.”
McNair grew up in rural Mount Olive, Miss., and became a nationally known college football star playing for Alcorn State, a Division I-AA school in his home state. He was so dominant in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, he became a Heisman Trophy contender.
National media flocked to little Lorman in the southwest corner of the Magnolia state to get a look at “Air McNair.” He still holds the Division I-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) records for career yards passing (14,496) and total offense (16,823).
McNair was the third overall draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, who eventually became the Titans. He finished his career with 31,304 yards passing and 174 touchdowns.
McNair is survived by Mechelle, his wife of nearly 12 years; and sons Junior, Steven, Tyler and Trenton.
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