BOSTON — News helicopters circled above the Back Bay neighborhood Thursday afternoon after Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots tight end and former Gator whose home was searched by police this week after the shooting death of an acquaintance, drove his white SUV to Boston from his home in North Attleborough, Mass.
Reporters followed breathlessly, evoking comparisons to the pursuit of O.J. Simpson by the police in 1994.
"Sounds familiar, doesn't it?" Michael McDowell, a laborer for a mason contractor, said as he cleared off the bed of a company truck and looked at a chopper overhead. He wore a faded Patriots T-shirt. "Football player, on the run."
Hernandez was not evading police; he was escaping the news media, who sprang into action for a relatively mundane pursuit when he left his house Thursday morning. He made a brief stop at Gillette Stadium and declined to speak to reporters who surrounded him as he got gas on the way to Boston.
The scrutiny of Hernandez began shortly after the body of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old acquaintance of his shot multiple times, was found Monday afternoon in an industrial park near his home, not far from a vehicle that had been rented by Hernandez. Police have ruled the death a homicide. State police searched Hernandez's home Tuesday night.
ABC News reported there are indications that he intentionally destroyed the sophisticated security system that guarded his $1.3 million home. In addition, a cellphone belonging to Hernandez was also turned over to investigators "in pieces" by his attorney. And it is believed that Hernandez hired house cleaners to scrub his mansion.
Reports surfaced Thursday that Hernandez's arrest in connection to the homicide was imminent. But ABC News reported police are not calling Hernandez, 23, a suspect, though they say he is not in the clear.
"It has been widely reported in the media that the state police have searched the home of our client, Aaron Hernandez, as part of an ongoing investigation," Michael Fee, a lawyer for Hernandez, said in a statement. "Out of respect for that process, neither we nor Aaron will have any comment about the substance of that investigation until it has come to a conclusion."
Yasmina Serdarevic, a spokeswoman for the Bristol County District Attorney's Office, said Thursday that no arrests had been made in connection with the murder, but she could not comment further. "It's part of an active investigation," she said.
Serdarevic said police were looking for part of a side-view mirror that might be somewhere between Boston and North Attleborough. "It's a side-view mirror cover belonging to the driver's side of the motor vehicle," said Serdarevic, who did not offer details about the vehicle or why investigators were interested in it.
Hernandez experienced trouble when he played for the Gators. He and three other UF football players were questioned after two men were shot as they drove in traffic in Gainesville in 2007. None were arrested and Hernandez declined to discuss the case with reporters.
When Hernandez enrolled at UF, he was arrested as a 17-year-old juvenile after an altercation at a campus hangout, the Swamp. The Bristol, Conn., native received deferred prosecution.
Four sports trophies and a photograph were perched on the porch railing of Lloyd's family's home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Lloyd played for the Boston Bandits, a semiprofessional football team.
"You couldn't ask for a better kid," Lloyd's stepfather, who did not give his name, said as he walked away from the home.
"He's the victim, not the famous people," said a neighbor, Paul Sandefur, 70.
Lloyd reportedly dated the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend and was reportedly with Hernandez at a nightclub in Boston at some point over the weekend.
Through the afternoon, attention remained on Hernandez, who stayed inside his lawyers' offices for hours.
Karen Russell, 58, from Cambridge, Mass., waited outside the building, hoping for Hernandez's autograph.
"His autograph is going to be worth money, you know what I'm saying?" she said.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.