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Shooting death of former Titans, Ravens QB McNair ruled a homicide

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Shot twice in the head and two more times in the chest, former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was the victim of a homicide, police declared Sunday. But authorities wouldn't say it was a murder-suicide -- even with his 20-year-old girlfriend dead at his feet from a single bullet.

McNair had been dating Sahel Kazemi for several months, and Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said Sunday that a semiautomatic pistol was found under her body. She was shot in the head.

McNair, who was married with four sons, had a permit to carry a handgun in Tennessee, and he was arrested once before with a 9mm weapon although charges in the case were dropped. Police said they had not yet determined who owned the gun found at the scene.

Investigators weren't looking for a suspect but were questioning friends of the couple as well as Kazemi's ex-boyfriend. They were also waiting for results of drug and other laboratory tests before deciding whether McNair was killed in a lovers' quarrel.

"That's a very important part of the investigation as we work to ultimately classify Miss Kazemi's death," Aaron said.

McNair, 36, and Kazemi apparently knew each other from a restaurant the quarterback and his family frequented, but workers there wouldn't talk about their relationship.


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Mechelle McNair, Steve McNair's wife of nearly 12 years and the mother of two of his four sons, was expected to collect her husband's belongings from authorities. Funeral arrangements were not expected to be finalized until Monday afternoon at the earliest.

"She's still very upset, very distraught," the quarterback's agent, Bus Cook, said. He said she had no comment after the police called his death a homicide.

Fred McNair, Steve McNair's oldest brother, said some family members likely will travel to Nashville on Monday to consult with Mechelle.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," Fred McNair said. "He was the greatest person in the world. He gave back to the community. He loved kids and he wanted to be a role model to kids."

He said he did not know who Kazemi was.

A man who answered the door at a house in the Jacksonville, Fla., suburb of Orange Park said it was the home of Kazemi's family, but said her relatives did not want to comment.

"We don't have anything to say, please leave us alone," he said.

The bodies of McNair and Kazemi were discovered Saturday by McNair's longtime friend, Wayne Neeley, who said he rents the condo with McNair.

Neeley told authorities he went into the condo, saw McNair on the sofa and Kazemi on the floor but walked first into the kitchen before going back into the living room, where he saw the blood.

Neeley then called a friend, Robert Gaddy, who played at Alcorn State with McNair. Gaddy dialed 911.

"People have certain things that they do in life. We don't need to look on the situation at this time (but) on the fact we just lost a great member of society," Gaddy said.

Cook said he was not aware that McNair was seeing Kazemi, a woman whose name the agent learned about through reports of the shooting.

"It doesn't make any sense. I don't know what to say," Cook said.

Police said a witness saw McNair arrive at the condo in the upscale Rutledge Hill neighborhood between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Saturday and that Kazemi's vehicle was already there. The condominium is located within walking distance of an area filled with restaurants and nightspots, a few blocks from the Cumberland River and within view of the Titans' stadium.

A neighbor saw McNair at Kazemi's apartment so often -- two to three times a week -- that she thought McNair had moved in.

McNair never tried to hide his presence but kept to himself.

Neighbor Reagan Howard said Kazemi often was dropped off in the early morning hours by a limousine and upgraded recently from her Kia to a Cadillac Escalade.

"It was pretty obvious that she was taken with him," Howard said.

The victim's sister, Soheyla Kazemi, told the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville that the young woman had expected McNair to get a divorce. "She said they were planning to get married."

Nashville courts had no record of a McNair divorce case, but a home he owned in Nashville is on the market for $3 million.

On Thursday, Nashville police arrested Kazemi on a DUI charge while driving a 2007 Escalade registered to her and McNair. McNair was in the front seat, but was allowed to leave by taxi.

McNair and his family frequented the restaurant where Kazemi was a waitress, according employees and patrons of Dave & Buster's in Nashville. Keith Norfleet, Kazemi's ex-boyfriend, told The Tennessean newspaper that McNair and Kazemi met at the restaurant.

"She was reliable 90 percent of the time," manager Chris Truelove said of Kazemi. "She was pretty outgoing. A lot of the guests liked being around her, and she liked being around the guests."

Co-worker Shantez Jobe, 33, she said was friends with Kazemi.

"We talked about who had more fashion sense, and who was the cutest, and who could get more boys, you know some of the stuff girls do," Jobe said.

In June, McNair opened a restaurant near the Tennessee State University campus. It was closed Saturday evening, but had become a small memorial, where flowers, candles and notes had been placed outside the door.

On the restaurant's windows were messages: "We will miss you Steve" and "We love you Steve."

A note attached to a small blue teddy bear read, "We will never forget you, Steve. Once a Titan, always a Titan."

"We don't know the details, but it is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families involved," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

McNair led the Titans within a yard of forcing overtime in the 2000 Super Bowl, which they lost 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams. He was co-MVP of the NFL with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in 2003.

Manning said in a statement Sunday that he had some great battles with the quarterback.

"Sharing the NFL MVP honor with him in 2003 was special because of what a great football player he was," Manning said. "I had the opportunity to play in a couple of Pro Bowls with him, and the time spent with him in Hawaii I'll never forget. I'll truly miss him. My condolences go out to his family."

McNair also played for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in April 2008.

His most noted drive, the last one in Super Bowl XXXIV, came when he led the Titans 87 yards in the final minute and 48 seconds, only to come up a yard short of the tying touchdown. Kevin Dyson caught his 9-yard pass, but was tackled at the 1-yard line by the Rams' Mike Jones.

"People don't understand that with all his limitations, the work ethic and all the things he did to prepare and get on the field to go this next Sunday reflected what he did for this team," Dyson told NFL.com's Steve Wyche on Sunday. "It's so hard. There were so many times he bailed us out on sure will. He was like Superman sometimes."

McNair accounted for all of Tennessee's yards in that drive, throwing for 48 yards and rushing for 14. The rest of the yardage came on penalties against the Rams. Before that, he brought the Titans back from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game.

"If you were going to draw a football player, the physical part, the mental part, everything about being a professional, he is your guy," former Ravens and Titans teammate Samari Rolle said. "I can't even wrap my arms around it. It is a sad, sad day. The world lost a great man today."

McNair grew up in rural Mount Olive, Miss., and became a nationally known college football star playing for Alcorn State, a Division I-AA school in his home state. His performance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference was so dominant, he became a Heisman Trophy contender and national media flocked to the school in Lorman, Miss., to get look at "Air McNair." He still holds the Division I-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) records for career yards passing (14,496) and total offense (16,823).

"While his on-the-field exploits will always be remembered, his passion for the game and life will never be forgotten," an Alcorn State spokesperson said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the McNair family at this time."

McNair was the third overall draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, who eventually became the Titans. He finished his career with 31,304 yards passing and 174 touchdowns. McNair played with pain for several years, and the injuries ultimately forced him to retire.

"On the field, there isn't player that was as tough as him, especially at the quarterback position," the Ravens' Derrick Mason said. "What I have seen him play through on the field, and what he dealt with during the week to get ready for a game, I have never known a better teammate."

During a five-game stretch at the end of the 2002 season, McNair was so bruised he couldn't practice. But he started all five games and won them, leading the Titans to an 11-5 finish and a berth in the AFC championship game for the second time in four seasons.

McNair played all 16 games in 2006, his first season in Baltimore, and guided the Ravens to a 13-3 record. But he injured his groin during the season opener last season and never regained the form that put him into two Pro Bowls.

Steve McNair , QB

Career Statistics
Passer Rating: 82.8
Passing Yards: 31,304
TDs/INTs: 174/119
Rushing Yards: 3,590

"I am deeply saddened to learn of today's tragic news regarding the death of Steve McNair. He was a player who I admired a great deal," said New England Patriots senior football adviser Floyd Reese, who was GM of the Titans when McNair played for them. "He was a tremendous leader and an absolute warrior. He felt like it was his responsibility to lead by working hard every day, no matter what."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher was out of the country, taking part in the first NFL-USO coaches tour to Iraq.

Ozzie Newsome, Ravens executive vice president and general manager, said he immediately thought of McNair's four sons.

"This is so, so sad. We immediately think of his family, his boys. They are all in our thoughts and prayers," Newsome said. "What we admired most about Steve when we played against him was his competitive spirit, and we were lucky enough to have that with us for two years. He is one of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years."

McNair is survived by Mechelle and sons Junior, Steven, Tyler and Trenton.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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