Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was killed in an apparent murder-suicide with a young woman who worked at an Opry Mills restaurant and had been dating him for months.
McNair, a hometown hero who did extensive charity work in Nashville, had several gunshot wounds, including one to the head. He was found on the sofa of a Second Avenue condominium that he rented, police said. Sahel Kazemi, 20, was found on the floor near him with a single gunshot wound to her head. A pistol was found near her body.
Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said investigators were not actively looking for suspects Saturday night but had not ruled out any scenarios. He stopped short of calling the deaths a murder-suicide, but said the police should be able to classify the deaths today after autopsies and forensic work.
“We expect to make additional conclusions after the autopsy process,” Aaron said
Though much of the attention was on the Second Avenue crime scene, police also swarmed Kazemi’s apartment at the Cherry Creek complex in Hermitage on Saturday. They questioned neighbors who said they often saw McNair visiting Kazemi. Sometimes, neighbors said, she would arrive home in a limousine in the early morning. They also heard arguments between her and her boyfriend.
Most recently, she had a new black car she said was a gift from her boyfriend.
She was arrested in that car, a black 2007 Cadillac Escalade registered to her and McNair, early Thursday at Broadway and Ninth Avenue, just two days before the deaths. She was charged with driving under the influence and refusing to take a breath test. She told police she was not drunk, but high.
McNair was in the car, a fact that was not in the police affidavit but was confirmed by police Saturday night. Police allowed McNair to take a cab home. He later bailed Kazemi out of jail, according to bail bondsmen.
Norfleet said he moved here with Kazemi from Jacksonville, Fla., where her family lives. She was raised by a sister. Her mother, a native of Iran, was murdered when Kazemi was 9, Norfleet said.
“She is the sweetest girl, and she did not deserve this,” Norfleet said upon learning of her death. “He was making her believe they were going to be together and everything would be perfect.”
Norfleet said they’d been speaking a lot recently and she planned to break it off with McNair. He said she banged on his apartment door early Saturday morning, but she left before he could get to the door. He spent much of Saturday afternoon looking for her and trying to find out if she was the woman who died with McNair.
“She was a very strong, independent girl. A hard worker,” said Norfleet, who had hoped to get back together with her. “She had a huge heart. She was very caring, very loving.”
Neighbors said she had turned 20 just a few weeks ago and described her as friendly and fun-loving though naive about some things. She was known as Jenny to her friends.
Tony Farahani, general manager at Dave and Buster’s at Opry Mills, said McNair frequently came to his restaurant, often bringing several people. He said he would not be surprised if McNair met Kazemi there. He described Kazemi as a solid employee, a workaholic with high energy.
“This is a tremendous shock, so unexpected. She was a bubbly girl and she was supposed to come today at 5 p.m.”
Friend Found Bodies
Police said Wayne Neely, a longtime friend of McNair’s who rented the condo with him, discovered the bodies in the condo shortly before 1 p.m.
Neely told police that he saw McNair on the sofa and Kazemi on the floor when he walked in, but at first did not recognize anything was wrong, police spokesman Aaron said, Neely walked into the kitchen, and when he walked out again, saw the blood. He called his friend Robert Gaddy, who made a 911 call to police, Aaron said.
“It was like something you might imagine seeing on TV or in the movies, but never imagine you would see it first-hand, to have that happen to someone you love. I am still shook up,’’ Gaddy said.
“When I walked in I knew it immediately (something was wrong). I didn’t have to touch him. I called 911 and told them they needed to get there. I was holding my breath and hoping it wasn’t true. I didn’t want to touch him but I saw blood on my best friend and I was almost panicking myself. It looked like he was gone and I didn’t want to believe it.’’
Police said Saturday they didn’t know when the shootings occurred.
Police did not release the name of the woman until late Saturday night, saying they first wanted to contact relatives. Early on, as speculation grew about the woman’s identity, police said the victim was not Mechelle McNair, Steve McNair’s wife and the mother of three of his four sons. Mechelle McNair was at the family’s home in Green Hills on Saturday and did not speak to the media.
A neighbor of the McNairs, Sandra Paschall, said she didn’t know what to expect when a celebrity athlete moved in, but they have been wonderful neighbors. She was surprised when the McNairs recently put their house up for sale. It’s listed for nearly $3 million.
As news about McNair’s death trickled out, grieving fans showed up at the downtown condominium, their sadness making it clear that McNair was much more than an athlete to the people of Nashville.
Chad Daniels, who lives near the scene, was one of the first to stop by, bringing a bouquet of flowers to show his grief.
“I think all of Nashville is pretty heartbroken over this,” he said, near tears. “He built the franchise. He built the Titans organization.”
As the day wore on, the red, white and blue outfits of the holiday were replaced with Titans blue and white. Shocked fans of all ages stopped by the crime scene on the way to see downtown fireworks, taking pictures with cell phones and calling friends to let them know the news.
Heavy rains thinned the crowd of spectators, but as the weather cleared, the cluster of onlookers swelled again. They spoke of McNair’s death as another shocking loss in the past month that saw the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.
At a neighboring condominium complex, which was roped off with crime scene tape, a holiday pool party raged on amid the chaos of the investigation. Revelers relaxing in bikinis and sporadic sunshine were surprised to learn that McNair’s death was the cause for the spectacle.
Kelly McCracken and her fiance drove an hour from their home in Hopkinsville, Ky., after learning of McNair’s death. She said she wanted to pay her respects to the football hero and let his family know that he was loved.
“Anyone can get famous,” said McCracken, who attends five or more Titans games a year. “But it takes a genuinely moral person to be a leader. He wasn’t just a football player, he was a leader.”
Fans also went to McNair’s new restaurant, Gridiron9, near the Tennessee State University campus, to share their grief and leave memories of their longtime quarterback.
The family issued a statement through McNair’s longtime agent, Bus Cook.
“The families of Steve McNair in Mississippi and Tennessee appreciate the concern, thoughts and prayers during this difficult time of our loss of a husband, father and son. The family requests everyone would allow them time to mourn.
“The McNair family appreciates and continues to request your prayers at this time.”