OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Junior Seau, the emotional leader of his hometown Chargers for 13 seasons, 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 Mr. Seau's girlfriend reported finding him in bed with a gunshot wound to the chest. He said foul play was not suspected and no suicide note was found at the home in a San Diego suburb.
"I just can't imagine this because I've never seen Junior in a down frame of mind," said Bobby Beathard, who as Chargers general manager took the linebacker out of Southern Cal fifth overall in 1990. "He was always so upbeat, and he would keep people up."
Mr. Seau's ex-wife, Gina, said he texted her Wednesday and each of their three children in separate messages: "I love you."
"We're beyond sad and beyond shocked," she said.
Mr. Seau's mother, Luisa, appeared outside his house, weeping uncontrollably. She said her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him earlier this week: "He's joking to me. He called me a 'homegirl.' "
About 100 people gathered outside of Mr. Seau's home. Family friend Priscilla Sanga said about 50 friends and family members gathered in the garage where Mr. Seau's body lay on a gurney.
"Everybody got to see Junior before they took him away," Sanga said. "He looked so peaceful and cold. It was disbelief. We all touched him and kissed him."
Mr. Seau is among a few recent deaths of ex-players. Former Bear Dave Duerson and former Falcon Ray Easterling committed suicide within the past year. Both were part of concussion lawsuits filed by ex-players against the league.
Mr. Seau was not part of a lawsuit, and Gina Seau said she didn't know if the effects of concussions contributed to his death.
"We have no clues," she said.
Mr. Seau appeared in 268 games over 20 seasons, recording 56½ sacks, 18 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries. He was voted to 12 Pro Bowls, named an All-Pro six times and chosen for the 1990s All-Decade.
Mr. Seau's greatest game might have been a 17-13 victory at Pittsburgh in the AFC title game in January 1995. Playing with a pinched nerve in his neck, he spread out his 16 tackles from the first play to the second-to-last. (San Diego lost to San Francisco 49-26 in the ensuing Super Bowl.
Mr. Seau left the Chargers after the 2002 season when they told him he was free to pursue a trade. He was traded to Miami, where he played from 2003-05.
The certain Hall of Famer retired a few times, the first in August 2006, when he said, "I'm not retiring. I am graduating."
Four days later, he signed with the Patriots. He was with them when they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season.
Mr. Seau's last season was 2009. And last fall, finally retired for good, Mr. Seau was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
One team, eight early deaths
Eight members of the Chargers team that lost Super Bowl XXIX to the 49ers in January 1995 have died before turning 45:
Junior Seau Linebacker Wednesday 43 Suicide *
Lew Bush Linebacker Dec. 8, 2011 42 Heart attack
Shawn Lee Defensive tackle Feb. 26, 2011 44 Heart attack
Chris Mims Defensive end Oct. 15, 2008 38 Enlarged heart
Curtis Whitley Center May 11, 2008 39 Drug overdose
Doug Miller Linebacker July 21, 1998 28 Lightning strike
Rodney Culver Running back May 11, 1996 26 Plane crash #
David Griggs Linebacker June 19, 1995 28 Car crash
* Police say an apparent suicide # ValuJet flight that crashed in the Everglades