Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed early Monday when his white stretch Hummer was sprayed by bullets after a nightclub dispute following a New Year's Eve party.
Police have no motive and no indication the 24-year-old player was targeted in the drive-by shooting of the limousine. The burst of violence occurred hours after the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention.
"All of us are devastated by this tragedy," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said in a statement. "To lose a young player, and more important, a great young man such as Darrent Williams, is incomprehensible. To lose him in such a senseless manner as this is beyond words."
A little after 2 a.m., the limousine was fired on from a vehicle that pulled up along its side, hitting three people, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. As many as a dozen bullet holes were visible on the driver's side of the vehicle. One window was blown out.
A man and a woman, Brandon Flowers and Nicole Reindl, were wounded. They were taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital.
Coach Mike Shanahan said the killing left him "speechless with sadness."
"We all know that Darrent was an excellent player, but as a person, he was a first-class young man who brightened every room with his smile, attitude and personality," Shanahan said. "I cannot express how heartsick I feel at this loss."
Jackson said there was a dispute at a nightclub several blocks from the shooting where Williams and his group had attended a party. He said the argument didn't specifically involve Williams, according to witnesses, and the confrontation wasn't physical, just taunts.
"Why this happened, we're not sure," Jackson said.
Police were searching for a white Suburban or Tahoe with dark-tinted windows. Jackson wouldn't identify any of the other passengers nor would he confirm whether any other Broncos players were in the limo, which can hold 23 people.
The club identified by police advertised a New Year's Eve event celebrating the birthday of Denver Nuggets basketball player Kenyon Martin. Mark Warkentien, Denver's vice president of basketball operations, spoke with police, who instructed him not to comment, team spokesman Eric Sebastian said.
The club — variously called Shelter or Safari — is on the second floor of an building in a once-seedy stretch south of downtown that has a growing number of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants. Outside, the building was unmarked except for a big sign from a former occupant, Jonas Bros Furs. Inside, the ceiling was strung with Christmas lights and set off with several fireplaces.
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.
The previous active NFL player to die was Thomas Herrion of San Francisco. He had a heart attack following an exhibition game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005.
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 top cornerback tandems. Williams finished the season with 88 tackles, 78 of them solo, and four interceptions.
His college coach, Mike Gundy, called the death a "tragic loss for the Broncos family, Oklahoma State University and anyone who knew Darrent Williams. It's a loss that goes far beyond the football field."
Players and coaches didn't have to report to work Monday but about 20 of them gathered at team headquarters to console each other, including receiver Javon Walker, who the Rocky Mountain News said was in the limo when Williams was killed.
"Any time you lose a guy who was close to everyone, it hurts," punter Paul Ernster said. "From the get-go, he was like one of your good friends."
Anthony Criss, Williams' high school football coach in Fort Worth, Texas, said: "When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd. 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."
In December, Williams spoke of returning to his hometown this offseason to talk to youngsters about staying out of gangs. Williams, who has two young children in the Fort Worth area, recently talked to Criss about establishing a free football camp for youth players.
"He wanted to be a good parent, a good father, a good example for his kids," Criss said. "He will be missed."
Last April, Nuggets guard Julius Hodge was shot while driving on Interstate 76 in Denver. In 2003, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who played at Colorado State, was shot outside a Denver sports bar.
"Since then, I carry myself in a different type of way," Porter said Monday. "I respect my situation whenever I go out. I take a whole different outlook when I go out. I make sure I feel like I'm safe and if I'm not, I'm not going."