Howard dies after stabbing

STORRS, Conn. -- A Connecticut football player who was an expectant father was stabbed to death early Sunday after an on-campus dance, just hours after helping his team to a homecoming victory.

Jasper Howard, 20, of Miami, and another student were stabbed during a fight after a fire alarm was pulled during a university sanctioned dance at the UConn Student Union just after 12:30 a.m., police said.

Police had not identified a suspect or released the name of the other victim.

Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said the team was heartbroken and devastated over the loss of Howard, a junior and the team's starting cornerback who came to the school to get away from the violence on the streets of his hometown. He became the first person in his family to go to college.

"I know this," Edsall said, his eyes red and welling with tears, "he loved UConn; he loved his teammates; he loved everything about this."

Edsall said Howard's death was especially tragic, because he was about to become a father. No additional information about the expectant mother, identified by Edsall as Howard's girlfriend, was provided by police or the university.

Joanglia Howard said she got news of her son's death about 4 a.m., and described him as a "good kid" who never got into trouble.

"All I wanted him to do was go to school and get an education, and he was doing what I asked him to do," she told WSVN-TV in Miami.

The coach gathered his team at its training facility at 6 a.m. to deliver the news.

"As Jazz looks down on us, I can promise him and his family, that son or daughter will have 105 uncles," punter Desi Cullen, a team captain, said at an afternoon news conference. "And we will do what it takes to not get through this, but to grow from it."

UConn Police Major Ronald Blicher said this is the first homicide at the university in the more than 30 years he has been associated with the school.

Blicher said Howard was stabbed following a fight between two groups that included students and non-students. The altercation broke out just after a fire alarm went off in the student center, forcing the evacuation of about 300 people, from a "Welcome Back" party and dance sponsored by the school's West Indian Awareness Organization.

Police and the school declined to say whether any other athletes were involved in the incident.

Police cordoned off the crime scene near the university's Gampel Pavilion basketball arena for much of the day.

"Certainly not all 300 saw this event," Blicher said. "We have been actively interviewing people through the night and day, and we continue to seek anybody who might have information."

Police were trying to determine whether the alarm and the fight were related.

The university community was sent messages warning them to be cautious, but Blicher said officials don't believe anyone else is in danger and that the stabbing did not appear premeditated.

"The university does not have an individual walking around just stabbing people," Blicher said.

Howard and the other stabbing victim were taken to Windham Community Memorial Hospital, where the second victim was treated and released. Howard was later airlifted to Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, where he died from his injuries.

Edsall drove to the hospital Sunday morning and was asked to identify Howard's body.

"One of my sons has been taken away," the coach said.

University President Michael Hogan told The Associated Press the stabbing is a tragedy for the entire university community.

"I was in the locker room after the game yesterday. It was such a joyous moment," Hogan said. "To go from that game and such a victory to the developments at 12:30 last night is such a tragedy."

Howard had a career-high 11 tackles Saturday against Louisville and made perhaps the game's biggest play, forcing a fumble just as Louisville was about to score with UConn up 21-13 in the third quarter. UConn won 38-25, and following the game, Howard, who led the Big East in punt returns last season, talked to the AP about the play.

"I felt my hand go on the ball and I felt that I had a chance to get it out. I just stripped it out. It was a big play. We needed it," he said.

Corey Bell, director of football operations at the University of Miami, coached Howard at Miami Edison High School.

He told The Miami-Herald Sunday that he was stunned.

"I'm real close to all my guys, but Jazz and I were real close," Bell said. "We spoke at least once every week. He's a great kid, coachable, dependable, real tough mentally and talented. He had dreams of getting to the next level and making it and taking care of his mom and his sister."

New England Patriots cornerback Darius Butler, described by Edsall as the player who taught Howard the ropes while at UConn, was shaken by the news.

"It hasn't settled in, but it was tough on the UConn family," Butler said. "He's in my thoughts and prayers."

A phone and e-mail message left with Miami's media relations department were not immediately returned.

The school was arranging for Howard's parents to come to Connecticut. The junior also had two teenage sisters.

The student union was reopened late Sunday, and the snack shop there was soon doing a brisk business.

Aaron Price, a 19-year-old music major, said he was a bit concerned that nobody had yet been arrested, but didn't fear for his own safety.

"I've never felt unsafe," he said. "I've never even thought about whether or not I felt safe."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell visited the campus Sunday to offer her condolences and any assistance the university might need.

Edsall said the team will not practice until Tuesday, but plans on playing next Saturday at West Virginia. He said they would wear some remembrance of Howard, and would plan a more permanent memorial at the team's training center.

"The Howard family will get through this, as well as the UConn family," Edsall said. "Because we are determined and we are willing to make sure that Jazz will be honored in the right way, and how we do things is what he'll be expecting out of all of us."