Death of Hurricanes' Pata ruled a homicide

MIAMI -- Police searched for clues Wednesday in the killing
of University of Miami lineman Bryan Pata, the shooting marking the
team's fourth death in the last decade.

Pata, a popular figure on campus, practiced Tuesday afternoon
and was shot Tuesday night at his apartment complex. It was the
latest shock to a Hurricanes team touched by tragedy and turmoil,
including a separate gun case this season and a wild on-field brawl
last month.

"They just shot him dead," Tonya Casimir, who identified herself as the player's cousin, told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach by phone from the house of one of Pata's family members. "He's gone."

The 22-year-old senior who grew up in Miami was pronounced dead
in the parking lot outside his apartment. His death was ruled a
homicide, Miami-Dade police spokesman Roy Rutland said.

Pata's mother, Jeanette Pata, stood outside his apartment Tuesday
night wearing a replica of her son's jersey.

"My son had a problem with nobody," a tearful Pata told
WTVJ-TV in Miami. "He's gone. He's gone."

Word of Pata's death spread quickly around campus, and grief
counselors were summoned for his teammates. An on-campus memorial service will be held next Wednesday at noon.

Miami coach Larry Coker said the team planned to play Saturday
against No. 23 Maryland, both "to represent our university and
represent Bryan Pata."

"It's very difficult," Coker said. "We're going to get
through today. Last night, everybody was in shock and disbelief.
Today is a day of reality. It's real. No. 95 will not be at his
locker. No. 95 will not be in the stretch line. That's the reality
of it."

"We're trying to get through a hard time right now and it's
going to take time," Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman told The
Associated Press after a team meeting at the university's athletic
complex. "And that's what being a close football family is all
about. We're going to help each other with this."

School officials said coach Larry Coker was "numb" over the
news. The athletic department released a statement urging anyone
with information about Pata's death to call police.

"Bryan was a fine person and a great competitor. He will be
forever missed by his coaches and teammates. We offer our thoughts
and prayers to his family," the university said in a statement.

A moment of silence was held at Miami Central High, Pata's alma
mater, Wednesday morning, said Anthony Saunders, his high school

"He was a great kid. A well-mannered, well-disciplined kid,"
Saunders said. "It never seemed like he had any problems.
Everything was always on track. He was going to the NFL and then he
got shot in the head."

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford was working
with Miami officials to gather information, conference spokeswoman
Amy Yakola said.

Rutland said police were called at 7:30 p.m. to the scene and
found Pata's body. He lived about 4 miles from campus. No motive
was released, and Miami-Dade police did not say who made the 911
call after the shooting.

"[Bryan] Pata was a guidance counselor in a way of our football team.
He wasn't the captain of the team, yet people would
look to Pata for direction on the way things are going. He was
definitely a great leader."
-- Miami QB Kirby Freeman

"Right now, we're just gathering ourselves and just trying to
pull ourselves together," athletic director Paul Dee told the AP.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive lineman was in his fourth year
with the Hurricanes and was expected to be selected in next
spring's NFL draft. He appeared in 41 games, making 23 starts. Pata
played primarily defensive tackle this season, totaling 13 tackles
and two sacks.

"Pata was a guidance counselor, in a way, of our football
team," Freeman said. "He wasn't the captain of the team, yet
people would look to Pata for direction on the way things are
going. He was definitely a great leader."

Pata was fierce on the field but somewhat soft-spoken off it.

"Everyone is just more surprised than anything else," said
Annette Ponnock, Miami's student body president. "He's such a
personality on campus. It was just really, really shocking to have
such a loss. ... He was a big guy so it was kind of hard to miss
him. He just had a presence about him."

This was at least the fourth time that tragedy involving a
player has struck the Hurricanes in recent years.

In April 1996, reserve linebacker and Miami native Marlin Barnes
was murdered in a campus apartment. And in 2003, former Miami
safety Al Blades was killed in a car accident, about a year after
former Miami linebacker Chris Campbell -- who had just completed his
eligibility with the Hurricanes -- also died in a crash.

In July, reserve safety Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks
when confronted in his yard before morning workout. Cooper was not
seriously injured. Brandon Meriweather, one of Cooper's teammates
and roommates, returned fire at Cooper's assailant, taking three
shots that apparently missed, police said.

Several Miami players, including Pata, said that was a robbery
attempt and cautioned teammates to be aware of their surroundings.

"We're targets because we play for the University of Miami. ...
These guys, they know who we are," Miami linebacker Jon Beason
said shortly after the Cooper shooting.

That prompted Coker to say that he did not want his players to
have guns, even if they possessed them legally.

Last month, Miami brawled on the field with Florida
International, a melee where fists, feet and helmets became
weapons. In all, 31 players were punished, including 13 Hurricanes.

Pata played three seasons at North Miami High before moving on to Miami Central. He chose to attend the University of Miami after also considering Rutgers, Florida and Oklahoma.

Former South Carolina offensive tackle Woodly Telfort, who played football with Pata at North Miami, said he considered him a best friend and cousin.

"Brian was cool, calm and collective," Telfort told ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday night. "He would do anything for his friends. He was a guy everybody loved. Bryan never got in trouble with anybody. I have no clue who would do this to him."

Telfort said he'd spoken with Pata several days ago.

"He was talking about how it had been a tough season, but how things were looking good for him going to the NFL," Telfort said. "He was going to play in the NFL."

Said Saunders: "He was a great kid, a Christian. He had everything going for him. He was a role model and a motivator."

North Miami coach Leonard Graham said he was a father figure to Pata.

"Just like any other kid from the inner city, he was looking for a way out," Graham told Schad. "He had his problems, but never had serious trouble. He had learned from his past experiences at Miami and had really grown up into a man."

Graham said Pata had for a time complained about playing time and had missed study halls.

"But I know the streets and to my knowledge he had no conflicts in the streets," Graham said, sobbing. "Maybe someone was jealous. Maybe someone tried to rob him. I have no idea why he was shot. I just know he was shot. I didn't know anyone that disliked him."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.