It started as a typical Friday night at the Latin Quarter: exclusive guest list, $200 bottles of Moet champagne and well-dressed clientele lining up to pay a $30 cover charge to party at the swank Manhattan club.
Then a few very, very important people rolled up in a black Cadillac Escalade: New York Giant stars Plaxico Burress and Antonio Pierce. The two sauntered inside, heading for the VIP section amid the pulsing merengue and hip-hop, Burress with a loaded, illegal gun tucked into the waistband of his track pants.
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Within an hour, the Latin Quarter would be a crime scene and the center of a drama that has transfixed the sports world and left Burress' career in jeopardy.
One week later, authorities are still trying to piece together details of what happened that night. But interviews with investigators and those connected to the case paint a picture of chaos, extraordinary secrecy and a frustrating hunt for answers by the police department.
Burress and Pierce showed up at the club at 1:20 a.m. Burress bypassed the line of patrons and got into the club despite the semiautomatic gun in his pants and ordered a drink.
Around 1:50 a.m., as Burress fumbled with the glass in his hand, the .40-caliber Glock slipped down his leg, and as he grabbed at it, he accidentally pulled the trigger and shot himself in the thigh. Witnesses reported hearing a "pop" as his legs started to quiver and the pistol dropped from his pant leg to the floor.
"Take me to a hospital," Burress said, according to investigators
Despite the gunfire and blood, no one at the club called police. In fact, investigators say, no one reported the incident at all. Not the players, nor the hospital where he was treated, even though the law states gunshot wounds must be reported.
After the gun slipped to the floor, a club security officer grabbed it, unloaded it and held it while Pierce helped his injured, bleeding teammate to the street and back into the Escalade. He helped Burress, shaking from pain, into the back seat. Pierce hopped in the front with an unknown woman in the driver's seat. As they started to pull away, a club security guard came to the Escalade's window.
"What do you want me to do with this?" he asked, referring to the pistol, according to police. Pierce threw it in the glove compartment of the Escalade, police said, then called team trainer Ronnie Barnes. The trainer told him to take Burress to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, about 20 blocks away.
Pierce's attorney, Michael Bachner, said his client had no idea his teammate had a gun until it went off, and his top priority at the time was to help his friend.
"Given the extraordinary circumstances of that evening, (Pierce) acted responsibly in trying to save what could have been the life of a friend," Bachner said.
The SUV sped to the hospital, arriving at 2:04 a.m. and Burress was registered under the alias Harris Smith. It's not known why that alias was chosen.
Dr. Josyann Abisaab was working her normal night shift at the hospital and treated Burress. As the doctor patched him up and they realized the wound wasn't serious, Barnes arrived and spoke to Burress. At some point, the Giants alerted NFL security officials, saying the team left it to the league to alert police.
But police say the league and the team were not initially forthcoming, stalling the investigation. They have since been more cooperative, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
"We want people to report gunshots as quickly as possible. We want people to be good citizens. It's an obligation of all of us to report gun shots," Kelly said Friday.
Hours passed as the first media reports of the shooting hit the airwaves. Acting on the rumors, police started canvassing local hospitals looking for signs. The NFL says its security department contacted police; NYPD officials say league officials called a precinct about 10:30 a.m. wondering whether anyone made a 911 call related to the shooting, but provided no details.
By 1 p.m. Saturday, Burress was discharged and on his way to his Totowa, N.J., home. Pierce went back to New Jersey as well, boarding a 1 p.m. team flight for Washington.
At the same time, police were hunting for clues about the mysterious shooting. They were learning details from media reports and not getting answers. Police say the NFL called fishing for information at one point, but didn't divulge any details about what they knew.
Finally, at 2:30 p.m., they learned Burress had in fact been hospitalized. But details beyond that were fuzzy.
The frenzy over the shooting intensified Sunday.
Burress lay low as Pierce and the Giants took the field in Washington against the Redskins, beating their division rival 23-7 on a dreary, rainy day.
All the while, reporters gathered outside the New Jersey home of Burress' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman. Burress' attorney announced his client would report to the 17th Precinct.
He arrived at the precinct Monday morning, surrounded by reporters and fans snapping pictures with cell phones. He was booked, led away in handcuffs, taken to the courthouse and arraigned on charges of criminal possession of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty, posted $100,000 bail and left.
"He is standing tall. He is a mature adult," Brafman said at the time, stressing his client is innocent until proven guilty. "I think any professional athlete in this situation would be concerned."
The Escalade was impounded earlier in the week as police searched for blood and gun residue. Police sought out Pierce to find out what he knew and whether he tried to cover up the shooting.
The story was front-page news almost every day throughout the week and became a bit of a fixation with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has waged a relentless fight against illegal guns. He expressed outrage on several occasions at Burress, the team, the league and the hospital. He even cracked a joke about the safety of being around the Giants.
On Friday, police questioned the doctor who treated Burress. They also spoke to Pierce, who met with investigators after practicing with the team ahead of the Giants' home game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Burress will not be on the field, and no one knows when or if he will return.
Suspended for the remainder of the season, the 31-year-old faces a felony weapons possession charge that requires a mandatory minimum 3 1/2 years in prison.
Many questions remain unanswered: What else happened that night that hasn't been revealed? Will Pierce face charges? Will Burress be able to avoid time behind bars? And will he face additional suspensions next year?
That decision will be up to the NFL, whose office is just a couple blocks from the nightclub where Burress' career might have come to an end during a night on the town.