DENVER – Impromptu memorials sprung up in two locations following the New Year's Day shooting death of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, as police struggled to find a motive for the shooting.
Balloons, teddy bears, flowers, signs and candles were among items being left at the crime scene, and in front of a sign at the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters in Englewood.
Signs and photographs also decorated the memorials that've appeared in the hours since the 24-year-old Williams was shot and killed inside a Humvee stretch limousine yesterday morning.
The shooting occurred along Denver's busy Speer Boulevard, only a few blocks from the nightclub where Williams and some friends had spent part of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Williams sustained a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to Robert Whitmore, chief medical examiner in the county coroner's office.
Police had no indication the 24-year-old player was targeted in the drive-by shooting, which occurred hours after Denver was eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to San Francisco.
The Rocky Mountain News reported that the shooting might be related to an earlier incident at the nightclub, where Williams was partying with several other Broncos team member and several Nuggets team members, including Kenyon Martin.
Police suspect the shooter then targeted the distinctive white Humvee stretch limo Williams had rented that night, the newspaper reported. A white SUV pulled alongside the limo and fired several shots.
A little after 2 a.m., Williams' limousine was fired on from a vehicle that pulled up along its side, hitting three people, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. A man and a woman, Brandon Flowers and Nicole Reindl, were wounded. They were taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital.
Martin told The Denver Post that he and several Nuggets left the nightclub before midnight, before any problems arose. "I was there. He was there. I left. I saw him. That was about the extent of it," Martin told the newspaper. The Nuggets canceled practice Monday.
"[Williams] was one of the most positive young men I've ever been around," Williams' agent Jeff Griffin said. "He lit up the room with his smile."
His former high school football coach in Texas, Anthony Criss, said Williams had gone from hanging with the wrong crowd to trying to keep kids away gangs and violence.
"When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd," said Criss, who coached Williams for three seasons at O.D. Wyatt High in Fort Worth. "I remember he went to church and the minister was talking to him about needing to pray and stop hanging around with the wrong people, and he started straightening up and doing the right thing."
Williams, who has two young children in the Fort Worth area, said last month that he wanted to return to his hometown in the offseason to talk to kids about staying out of street gangs. He also had recently spoken to Criss about establishing a free football camp for young players in Fort Worth.
"He had great compassion," Criss said. "He always wanted to try to make sure people did the right thing. He wanted to be a good parent, a good father, a good example for his kids. He will be missed."
Coach Mike Shanahan said the killing left him "speechless with sadness."
While some players went straight to the hospital where Williams' body was taken, others gathered at team headquarters, including receiver Javon Walker, who was reportedly was in the limo when Williams was shot. Walker appeared to have a large blood stain smeared across his white shirt when he arrived. Walker did not speak with reporters.
The club was closed Monday night, a torn New Year's hat lying outside on the sidewalk.
Hours after the shooting, the limo sat in a snowbank beside Speer Boulevard, a main street through downtown. Police and technicians worked amid snow and ice from recent storms, using small yellow plastic markers to indicate possible evidence.
"His heart was so big, he was always giving to those who didn't have," said Rosalind Williams, who flew to Denver from Fort Worth. "It didn't even have to be for an agency or a charity. If he knew you didn't have, he'd hand it out of his pocket."
Williams was a second-round draft choice in 2005 out of Oklahoma State and teamed with Champ Bailey to give Denver one of the NFL's elite cornerback tandems.
"He was the greatest players I have coached in my 20 years," Oklahoma State secondary and special teams coach Joe DeForest said. "He wanted to prove to the world that he could play. ... He wanted to prove himself, and that's the way he approached every game. It was what made him a great player."
Williams' family was trying to arrange a funeral Saturday at the Great Commission Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
"All I can say is he did more in his 24 years ... maybe that's why he did so much because he knew his time on Earth was limited," Rosalind Williams said. "Guns are in the wrong hands. People have no respect for human life. Dee won't be back. The guy who pulled the trigger has to live with it."