|A year after his death, Bryan Pata's unsolved killing still saddens Miami Hurricanes|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 02 November 2007 10:11|
How? Why? Who?
No answers were coming that night.
A year later, as Wednesday's solemn anniversary of his death looms, there are still no answers.
For those who knew Pata best and loved him most, that's the most disturbing part of this tale. Time has healed some wounds. They've recovered a tiny bit from what happened around 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2006, in the parking lot of an apartment building a few miles from Miami's campus.
Yet despite the best efforts of police and private investigators, the promise of at least $21,000 in reward money and the pleas of a desperate family, a killer remains at large.
So, too, does the sense of closure the Hurricanes covet.
``It's frustrating to know that it's been a year and justice hasn't been taken,'' offensive lineman Derrick Morse said. ``They haven't found the guy and it's not fair for his family and it's not fair for us because we're his family, too. It still hurts.''
Pata was a 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive lineman, the youngest of nine children, a hulk of a man having a strong senior year. Some thought he was a lock to be chosen on the first day of last April's NFL draft, which would have been the first step toward fulfilling his dream of supporting his family through pro football riches.
He had a girlfriend and a puppy, was immensely popular around campus and had a collection of guns, some of which he kept in his apartment. No one found him violent; in fact, his major was criminology. The closest Pata came to hurting people - away from the field, that is - was when he'd snap teammates with soapy towels as they tried to dry off after showers.
``He made the locker room fun,'' wide receiver Darnell Jenkins said. ``He was always noticeable. And when he was gone, the rest of the year, it was silence.''
The silence started on a Tuesday, about two hours after practice ended.
Pata walked off the field next to quarterback Kyle Wright that day, before helping a few teammates dump a water bucket over assistant coach Clint Hurtt's head - it was Hurtt's birthday - and sitting outside to eat some food just delivered by caterers.
He eventually got in his truck, drove the 4 miles to his apartment, but never got inside.
This is where things get murky.
The belief most share is Pata got into an argument with someone in the parking lot, and that person pulled out a gun to settle the fight. Pata was reportedly shot several times, including multiple times in the back of the head.
By the time paramedics got there, they had no chance.
``The most difficult thing is not knowing what happened,'' said Wright, whose first instinct was to rush to Pata's side when he heard of the shooting, not immediately realizing his friend had died. ``You think about him, you see his pictures, but now you only think of the good things that happened. I can't believe it's been a year. Seems like yesterday.''
Pata's family is frustrated. So are his teammates. So, too, are the police.
No arrests have been made, but hope is not gone, said Miami-Dade Police Det. Alvaro Zabaleta, who couldn't say much specifically about the case because the investigation is ongoing.
``They're still continuing to aggressively investigate the case and aggressively pursue all leads,'' Zabaleta said. ``I know that when anything comes up, they check it out right away.''
Many with knowledge of the investigation say they were told Pata had somewhere between $700 and $900 in cash on him that night, which wasn't taken by the shooter or shooters. Nor was his truck, the Infiniti QX56 he adored.
Clearly, this wasn't a robbery.
So what was it?
Payback for something? A case of mistaken identity? Jealousy? A vendetta gone horribly wrong? Or just a random killing, one of the 258 murders that took place within the county last year?
Someone has to know something.
If so, that someone isn't talking.
``That's how it is here,'' said safety Kenny Phillips who, like Pata, grew up in a tough South Florida neighborhood. ``No one's going to say anything. That's the way of life down here.''
Teammates still remember where they were that night.
Jenkins was in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood when the phone call came. Jason Fox was in his dormitory. Lovon Ponder, who's married and has a son, was being interviewed by a television crew interested in the story of his family life when he got the text message summoning him back to campus.
``After that, guys were down. Guys weren't into it,'' said Ponder, who was Pata's cousin by marriage - something he didn't know until just a few months before Pata's death. ``Football was something nobody wanted to do at the time. He was a wonderful young man who, I believe, was on his way to the top.''
Those few days following Pata's death are a blur.
The Hurricanes practiced the next day, played at Maryland that weekend - losing by a point - and wound up squeaking into a bowl game with a 6-6 record. They went to his memorial services. They went to his burial a week later.
Pata wouldn't have been with Miami in the physical sense this year anyway, of course.
But his spirit remains within the Hurricanes. His No. 95 jersey wasn't issued this fall. His locker remains empty, sans for a plaque commemorating his life.
``It's part of us,'' said Miami coach Randy Shannon, who was Pata's defensive coordinator. ``But we have to move forward. We have to keep going on.''
Some players acknowledge when they kneel for pregame prayers, they're talking to him.
They're not alone.
Many of Pata's friends still visit his MySpace page, posting messages as if he's still here. They ask him to watch over them or keep their families safe, or just to say hello. They write things like: ``Have a great life in heaven,'' or ``God's plans were so different from our own,'' or simply ``We miss you.''
``We do think about him. We think about him every day,'' said Fox, an offensive lineman.
Pata's family has started a foundation in his honor, trying to help kids because they're convinced that's what he would have wanted.
``We have to preserve his name,'' Pata's brother, Edwin Pata, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. ``We need to do that for Bryan. When somebody is responsible for taking someone's life away, it's hard to remain patient. But we are. We're just remaining patient and trying to patch everything together and figure out how, why and who.''