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 CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -The reality never changes. Edwin Pata arises each morning thinking it was all a nightmare, that someone really didn't hold a gun close to his brother's head and pull the trigger before leaving him to die in a parking lot.
Every morning, same hope.
Every morning, same pain.
It's been nine months since Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata was killed outside his apartment complex last Nov. 7, a couple hours after he left practice and a quick dinner with teammates. Nine months of frustration and anger, nine months of grief, nine months without answers. For those who cared about Pata most, time hasn't made it easier to handle.
``There's a person out there enjoying life, living life,'' Edwin Pata says, the volume of his words quickly rising from conversational levels to almost a shout. ``And that person, he, she, whomever, isn't going through half of what my family is going through. They don't know what we're going through. But we keep hoping.''
Really, that's all Pata's family and teammates can do.
Pata was a senior last season, meaning he wouldn't have been around the Hurricanes these days anyway. He'd have surely been selected in the NFL draft and vying for pro playing time. But he's still part of the Hurricanes in many ways; his locker remains empty, except for a simple memorial plaque, and his No. 95 jersey is unassigned.
``It still hurts,'' Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden said, ``as bad as it ever did.''
Gooden is one of those tough-as-nails guys, a sleek, muscular man who loves to hit and doesn't necessarily like showing his soft side.
Get him talking about Pata, though, and his voice doesn't rise above a whisper.
They were very close. When Gooden needed advice on clothes, he turned to Pata. When he needed his car fixed, he asked Pata where to go. When it was time to talk about the dream of playing in the NFL and the riches that might come with it, Gooden always found his way toward Pata.
``I want him back. Everybody wants him back,'' Gooden said. ``How and why would someone do this to him? He was his family's golden child. He was going to be the one to help out his family, make sure they make it. I want to know some answers. Everyone wants to know some answers.''
Those answers might be coming.
Pata would have turned 23 on Aug. 12, so in his memory, his family threw a birthday party in a park. Hundreds of kids turned out for food, music and school supplies - courtesy of a memorial fund set up in the player's honor by his family, who turned their surname into an acronym for the slogan ``Promoting Academics and Athletics To All.''
A representative from the State Attorney's Office was there, telling those in attendance they believe the case will be one day solved. City and county officials also showed up, some of them just saying they wanted to meet the Pata family and thank them.
``We're doing this in remembrance of him,'' Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle said. ``What happened has happened. It's terrible. But it's monumental for the family to take his memory, give back to the community and keep his legacy going. Now that's unbelievable.''
At least a dozen police officers showed up as well, including two homicide detectives who pulled Edwin Pata aside and offered him some encouragement.
Publicly, all police officials will say is that the investigation is continuing. In private moments with the family, though, officers vow that arrests will happen.
``They think they're close,'' Edwin Pata said. ``I've gotten some good news. I'm confident. I really am. We're going to find out what happened one day.''
For everyone who knew Pata - his friends, family and teammates - that can't come fast enough.
Not a day passes where Gooden doesn't think about Pata, and he's certainly not alone in that regard. And Gooden confesses that some things Pata used to always say about the importance of winning and football didn't necessarily mean much to him before Nov. 7.
Now? They're Gooden's driving force.
``He had a passion to win and now I have that passion,'' Gooden said. ``I want to fulfill his dreams, for him and his family. Bryan wanted that championship. That's all he talked about. I've got one more year to get that done and if we get that, that's going to be in tribute to him.''
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