Thursday, July 29, 2010
Photo by AP Photo/Mark Duncan
In this Sept. 29, 2008, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' Lorenzen Wright poses at the NBA basketball team's media day in Independence, Ohio. Wright's body was found Wednesday in a wooded area of southeast Memphis.
Missing Memphis Basketball Star Lorenzen Wright Found Dead
Gunshots Heard On 911 Call From Cell Phone 9 Days Ago
By Kristina Goetz, Beth Warren
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Originally published 03:23 p.m., July 28, 2010
Updated 11:24 p.m., July 28, 2010
In the early hours of July 19, a Germantown dispatcher received a 911 call from Lorenzen Wright's cell phone.
The dispatcher heard a garbled male voice utter an expletive, then at least 10 gunshots.
"Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?" the dispatcher asked.
Then the phone went dead.
The dispatcher called back. No one answered.
Nine days later, Wright's body was found in a wooded area of southeast Memphis, two law enforcement sources confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
The former basketball star went missing on July 19, just hours before he was supposed to ride back to his townhouse in the Atlanta area with a friend and his six children.
Hundreds of Wright's friends and fans, including kids on bicycles and women pushing strollers, rushed to the scene Wednesday where the body was found, in an area across the road from the TPC Southwind golf course near Hacks Cross and Winchester. Cars lined Hacks Cross as far as the eye could see, some with their lights flashing.
Some people cried and watched as a news helicopter circled overhead. Some took photos of police officers and each other with cell phones.
Police cars stopped onlookers from getting too close to the crime scene as they walked up the winding road of a planned office park nearby. One officer said the scene reminded him of the day Elvis died, when fans flocked to the gates of Graceland.
The Wright family issued a statement Wednesday night through a cousin of Wright, Camella Logan.
"Lorenzen's family has come together to mourn his loss and honor his legacy," the statement said. "We appreciate your thoughts, prayers and condolences as they are comforting at this very difficult time. Additionally, we ask that you please respect our privacy as we try to cope with his sudden loss."
Wright's mother, Deborah Marion, arrived at the scene Wednesday night with a handful of family members. She crossed the crime scene tape and tried to talk to police when she was told to move back.
Eventually, two officers let her through. She started running down the road toward the crime scene before being stopped by an officer.
She spoke with police, then walked straight to a van without speaking to anyone.
Marion lived nearby and Wright often used the little-known road through the wooded area -- known as Callis Cutoff -- as a shortcut to her home.
"RIP Memphis Tiger alum Lorenzen Wright," former Tiger Chris Douglas-Roberts, now of the Milwaukee Bucks, posted on his Twitter account.
Wright, 34, described by friends as a dedicated father, leaves behind two daughters and four sons, ages 4 to 15.
He visited his children July 18 at his former wife's home in Collierville. He was supposed to meet them the next day to take them back to his home in an affluent northern suburb of Atlanta so they could spend the rest of the summer with him, said family friend Jeremy Orange.
The children had spent most of the summer with their father, who took them to the movies, amusement parks and the swimming pool and helped them with their basketball skills, Orange said.
Wright had asked Orange to drive the children to their mom's Memphis home July 16 because oldest daughter Loren, 14, was competing in a beauty contest. Orange said Wright, known to friends as "Ren," hugged each child and gave Loren a kiss goodbye as they left the Atlanta area.
Wright, who hadn't been scheduled to come to Memphis, could be spontaneous.
His roommate, Michael Gipson, dropped him off at the Atlanta airport to fly to Memphis on July 18, and Wright planned to catch a ride back with Orange and his children the next day, Gipson said.
Antavio Brigance, Wright's longtime barber, said Wright came into his shop not long before he disappeared.
"He was laughing, cheerful and bubbly," he said.
After his haircut, Wright left with a friend in a silver, older-model Chrysler 300, said Brigance, who declined to describe the other person in the car.
According to the missing-persons report filed by his mother, Wright was last seen leaving his former wife's house on Whisperwood Drive at about 2 a.m. July19.
Four days later, the family reported the disappearance of the 6-foot-11 power forward to Collierville police.
One factor that could have put him in jeopardy: He was known to carry a wad of cash, according to the missing-persons report.
"He had been toting some money at the barbershop," Brigance said.
Orange estimated Wright was carrying between $2,000 and $3,000 in big bills. Police have not said if robbery is a possible motive in the slaying.
His friends have said they don't know why anyone would harm Wright.
"He's a relaxed person. I've never seen him mad or upset," Orange said. "I've known people from the NBA who are real stuck-up and cocky. That man is not like that."
"I don't think he had any enemies," he said.
Wright recently had endured some tough times, with a fractured thumb that had halted his NBA career, financial woes and a divorce finalized in January.
But his roommate said he remained positive, that he had begun dating again and he had two NBA teams inviting him to tryouts. Wright was scheduled to fly to Israel last weekend to try out for a team there, prompting his agent to make several calls searching for him, Gipson said.
The University of Memphis player joined the NBA in 1996 as the Los Angeles Clippers' No. 7 draft pick. He joined the Grizzlies in 2001 and spent five seasons in Memphis, where he had dreamed of retiring.
Attorney Gail Mathes, who represented the athlete's ex-wife, Sherra Robinson Wright, 39, during the couple's divorce, said he remained kind during the process and continued to put the children's interests first.
"Man, he loves those kids and they love him," Orange said."He has that father instinct.
"When I'm driving them, he calls to tell me: 'Take care of my babies.'"
—Kristina Goetz: 901-529-2380
—Beth Warren: 901-529-2383
Staff reporters Clay Bailey, Zack McMillin, Mike Mueller and Geoff Calkins contributed. The Associated Press also contributed.
© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
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