BRISTOL, Conn. (WTNH) — Aaron Hernandez’s family gathered in Bristol one last time to honor the former NFL star with the New England Patriots. Bristol was where his football dreams began as a boy and that’s how many people here remember him.
Streets were shut down as family and friends gathered in a private ceremony that was invitation only. Investigators believe Hernandez killed himself in a Massachusetts prison.
“That great, great football player in high school that dreamed of making it to the NFL,” said Sandra Galindo, whose son and nephew went to school with him. “That’s what I see in my head of him.”
Today, Sandra saw lines of cars pulling into O’Brien Funeral Home. Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee and daughter pulled up in a limo to pay their respects. His mother and brother arrived together — comforting each other as they walked inside. Media cameras and crews from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other places were kept across the street. Police closed off streets and the main areas around the funeral home, respecting the family’s wishes for privacy.
“We have the family here to grieve,” said Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould. “We want them to be able to grieve in peace.”
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Chief Gould told News 8 125 people were on the list to attend the private service. One of them, who wished to remain anonymous, told News 8 the service was emotional. There was an open casket and a couple of football players were there, including at least one, representing the Patriots — the team with whom Hernandez had such a promising career.
Instead, he became a man whose legal troubles dominated the headlines and ultimately, landed him behind bars, where his life ended last Wednesday morning when he was found hanging in his jail cell. Police say it was suicide. At the time, Hernandez was serving a life sentence for murdering his friend, Odin Lloyd in 2013. His body was found just a week after he was acquitted of double murder from a drive-by shooting in 2012.
Aaron Hernandez’s legal team emerged from the funeral home with a statement from the family to the public:
“The family of Aaron Hernandez wishes to thank the public for its thoughtful expressions of condolences,” said Ron Sullivan, one of Hernandez’s lawyers. “The family wishes to say goodbye to Aaron in privacy. They thank everyone in advance for affording them some measure of privacy during this difficult time. They love him and they miss him.”
Shortly afterwards, family and friends emerged from the funeral home and drove to a nearby banquet hall for a private gathering.
Last week, Hernandez’s cousin Randy Garcia told News 8 how he hopes the people of Bristol and football fans will remember Aaron.
“Remember him as an athlete, the smile, the charm, the charisma, the good heart we all saw,” Garcia said. “He was a good-hearted person and not the mean-spirited evil that all those other people comment on.”
Hernandez leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter, fiance, and mother. He was 27-years-old.