By Gillian Flaccus
OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Former NFL star Junior Seau was found shot to death at his home Wednesday morning in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43.
Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau’s girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. A gun was found near him, McCoy said.
Seau’s mother appeared before reporters, weeping uncontrollably.
“I don’t understand … I’m shocked,” Luisa Seau cried out.
Her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week, she said.
“He’s joking to me, he called me a ‘homegirl,'” she said.
Seau was a standout linebacker with the University of Southern California before going to the San Diego Chargers — his hometown team — whom he led to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season.
“Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they’re doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family,” the team said in a statement.
The Chargers released a statement to ABC News’ San Diego affiliate: “Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they’re doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family.”
If Seau did indeed commit suicide, his death would bear a resemblance to that of other athletes in hard-hitting sports, including Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Duerson shot himself in the chest in February of last year.
Several former NFL players have committed suicide in recent years, and many experts believe the deaths could be related to repeated blows to the head. In addition to Duerson, ex-Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters took their own lives. Ray Easterling, former safety for the Atlanta Falcons, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL over its handling of CTE related injuries, died April 19, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative and progressive disease found in people who have experienced multiple blows to the head, and has shown up in the brains of several former athletes who committed suicide.
CTE has similar brain features to that of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Last May, Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, a research center that studies Deurson’s brain after his death, told reporters that Duerson “had classic pathology of CTE and no evidence of any other disease,” ESPN reported at the time. Seau remained with the Chargers until 2003 and went on to play with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots before retiring after the 2009 season.
“Junior was a fierce competitor whose passion and work ethic lifted his teammates to greater heights. His enthusiasm for the game was infectious and he passed that on to everyone who was around him. He loved the game so much, and no one played with more sheer joy,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said in a statement.
“Junior was one-of-a-kind. The league will never see anyone like him again,” Dee said.
The Patriots also issued a statement expressing grief over Seau’s death. “This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates,” the statement said.
In October 2010, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge down a seaside cliff in his SUV, hours after he was arrested for investigation of domestic violence at the Oceanside home he shared with his girlfriend. The woman had told authorities that Seau assaulted her during an argument.
There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash and Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving. He sustained minor injuries.
Seau spent parts of 20 seasons in the NFL, including his 1990-2002 stint with his hometown Chargers. He helped them to their only Super Bowl appearance, was voted to a team-record 12 straight Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro six times.
He amassed 545 tackles, 56½ sacks and 18 interceptions in his career.
“Twenty years, to be part of this kind of fraternity, to be able to go out and play the game that you love, and all the lessons and the friends and acquaintances which you meet along the way, you can’t be in a better arena,” Seau said last August after the Chargers announced he would be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
More than 100 people gathered outside of Seau’s home, only hours after he was found dead. Families showed up with flowers and fans wearing Chargers jerseys waited to get more news.
Seau was beloved in San Diego, where he created a foundation and had a popular restaurant that bore his name.
“I don’t know how you could give this up. This was his backyard. He’s never going to see it again,” said Lieras, gesturing toward the Pacific Ocean just yards from Seau’s front door. “I feel for the family and his children.”
ABC News contributed to this story.