Former San Diego Chargers star and community icon Junior Seau was found dead Wednesday in his Oceanside home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Oceanside police said.
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The Oceanside Police Department responded to Seau's home in the 600 block of South The Strand shortly after 10 a.m. after a 911 call came from the home.
Oceanside police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau's girlfriend found him in a bedroom unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest. Seau, 43, could not be revived, and a handgun was found near his body, McCoy said. McCoy confirmed Seau's death is being investigated as a suicide.
A witness told 10News that police responded with a large presence at the location and closed the roadway. The witness also told 10News that a gunshot was heard inside Seau's home. A neighbor who spoke with police told 10News that when he asked what was going on at the house, authorities said Seau shot himself.
Oceanside police Lt. Leonard Mata said investigators did not find a suicide note at the scene. He also said investigators were not sure if an electronic version was left behind.
Mata said investigators were looking into who the handgun was registered to.
Three members of the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office arrived at the house shortly before noon, and Seau's body was placed in a van and taken from the scene about an hour and a half later.
A large number of friends and family members gathered at the home following the police response. Pastor Miles McPherson of The Rock Church and Chargers team chaplain Shawn Mitchell both arrived at the home to be with Seau's family.
At a Wednesday morning press conference, Seau's mother, Luisa, became emotional as she spoke about her son's death, saying she didn't have an idea that this would happen. She sobbed and begged God, "Take me! Take me!" She said she didn't know who to blame or what she would do without her son.
"I prayed to God, 'Take me, leave my son,' but it's too late, too late," Luisa Seau said.
Seau's sister, Annette, praised her brother and asked for privacy for her family during their time of mourning.
"My brother was a loving brother, a caring citizen," she said.
Seau was also being remembered at Oceanside High School.
He graduated from Oceanside High School 25 years ago, but over the years, he has remained very involved there and in the community.
The news of Seau's death stunned Oceanside High School Athletic Director Dave Barrett.
"At first i was dumbfounded," said Barrett.
Barrett was Seau's high school football defensive coach during the mid-1980s.
"Junior was such a multi talented athlete on the football field," Barrett said. "He was a wide receiver, a quarterback
He could throw the football 80 yards in the air when he was 16 years old."
Barrett told 10News he will never forgot the first day Seau tried out for the varsity football team as a sophomore. Seau showed up two hours early to the first day of two-a-days. Barrett said he stood in amazement as Seau did shuttle runs with his own stop watch, pushing himself when no one else was around.
"The one thing I associated with Junior was passion," he said. "You know, that's just the way he practiced, the way he played from the time he was 14 years old the first time I met him here at Oceanside High School. He was passionate."
Seau's picture is proudly posted in Oceanside High's senior hall from when he was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2010. His retired number 11 jersey will forever remain a fixture on the wall just outside the school's gymnasium.
"Junior left some indelible footprints here at Oceanside High School and we're proud of the man he became," said Barrett.
Oceanside High's assistant principal Jessica Poumele remembers Seau as a senior at Oceanside High School. She was in ninth grade at the time.
"He was definitely passionate, passionate about sports, passionate about life," said Poumele.
Seau was also passionate about giving back. Last fall, Seau donated a patch obstacle course located in the back of the campus that is used daily by hundreds of students.
The star linebacker was drafted fifth overall in 1990 by the Chargers. He played college football at the University of Southern California.
Seau, a 10-time All-Pro and 12-time Pro Bowl selection, also played for the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots.
Seau is the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers Super Bowl team that died young. The others from that team who passed away:
-- Linebacker David Griggs died in a 1995 car crash -- Running back Rodney Culver and his wife died in a plane crash in 1996 -- Linebacker Doug Miller was killed after being struck by lightning in 1998 -- Center Curtis Whitley was found dead in his home in 2008 due to an accidental drug overdose -- Defensive end Chris Mims died in his home as a result of a heart-related issue in 2008 -- Defensive tackle Shawn Lee passed away in 2011 from cardiac arrest -- Linebacker Lew Bush died in 2011 from a heart attack in his San Diego home
Seau's personal problems became very public in October 2010 after he drove his SUV off a cliff hours after an arrest on a domestic violence charge. Afterward, Seau claimed he didn't intentionally drive off the cliff but fell asleep at the wheel.
In 1992, Seau created the Junior Seau Foundation, an organization formed "to educate and empower young people through the support of child-abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs." Since then, nearly $4 million has been distributed to organizations providing services to children and young adults.
In 1996, he established what would become a popular Mission Valley sports bar-restaurant bearing his last name.
The restaurant was closed on Wednesday but fans have stopped by all day.
Fan John Lawson struggled to hold back the tears as he talked about the shocking loss of a San Diego football legend.
"I couldn't believe it, so I got on the Internet," said Lawson. "Me and my father used to watch him when I was growing up."
The devoted fan was wearing his number 55 jersey.
"Any real Charger fan still has his old Seau jersey," he said.
Lawson headed to Seau's restaurant hoping to pay his respects by having a meal there, but the popular restaurant never opened on Wednesday. The front entrance has become a memorial for flowers and candles.
"I just felt like he had done so much for this community," said fan Sara Cambero. "He's going to be missed in this community. Absolutely."
Fan Andrew Olvera came by with flowers because Seau made such a lasting impression on him.
"When I met him here at the restaurant, he was in a hurry but he took time out to make sure that I seemed to know where I was going," said Olvera, who is blind. "He's somebody very special."
Michelle Bonot will never forget meeting Seau at the restaurant 10 years ago when she was pregnant and what he did when she went into labor.
"Junior sent me a bouquet of flowers to the hospital and I still have that card today," she said.
Johnny Martinez, the athletic director of the Boys and Girls Club, worked with Seau many times.
"He had a very big heart," said Martinez.
Before coming to the restaurant, he went to Seau's Oceanside home directly across from the beach and saw something that took his breath away.
"I walked down the steps and I looked to the right and there it was on the sand," he said.
He took a cell phone photo of the large handwritten message in the sand, which read, "I will miss you mom and dad."
"It was really surreal," said Martinez.
He said he has no doubt it was Seau's final message on earth.
"I wept at that moment," he said. "It was a very stirring, trying moment for me."
10News left a message with Oceanside police to tell them about the message in the sand and to share the pictures.
The restaurant will remain closed on Thursday.
Chargers president Dean Spanos and head coach Norv Turner also reflected on the man who meant so much to the team.
For Spanos, it was a day of grief and disbelief.
"I was watching the news when the head of PR came in and told us," he said. "It's just a really sad moment right now, everybody. It's so emotional right now
you don't know what to say."
Spanos said he last saw Seau last year when Seau was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
"Clearly, he was the heart and soul of the franchise while he played here," said Spanos. "His legacy speaks for itself. He's going to be in the big hall of fame, no doubt about that ... He's going to be remembered by everybody."
That includes head coach Turner.
"It's unbelievable and just immediate shock," said Turner. "This one is hard. It's going to take a long time to get over."
Turner was the offensive coordinator in 2001 when Seau was on the team, and the two met up again for one year with the dolphins.
"That cliché being a coach on the field he was more than that, he was a mentor for so many people," said Turner. "He taught people how to do their job and be a pro."
Turner said he spent the day talking to players and staff who knew Seau and sharing memories.
For Turner, one conversation he had with Seau stands out.
"He would always say to me, 'I'm always a Charger. I went to Miami and New England, but I'm always a Charger,'" said Turner, "His passion ... that's why he achieved the things he did. He had such a great impact on so many people. He will be missed."
USC head football coach Lane Kiffin said Seau recently attended the Trojans' spring game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
"This is a very sad day," Kiffin said. "The USC football program and the entire Trojan Family extends our condolences to Junior's family. He was one of the greatest Trojans of all time."
USC athletic director Pat Haden added, "Junior Seau was one of the greatest legends in USC football history. He will always be remembered by USC as the original No. 55."
Seau is survived by a daughter and three sons.
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