On a recent summer Sunday in inner-city Boston, Odin Lloyd dreamed about his future. He was at a cookout with Darryl Hodge, a friend he was so close to they called each other the Wolf Pack, a man who, like Lloyd, had boyhood hopes of playing in the NFL. But now here they were, years later, playing semipro football in empty old stadiums with beat-up bodies and paycheck-to-paycheck jobs.
Imagine, Lloyd told his friend, what life would be like if they could wake up every day doing something they loved. If they had the money to take care of everybody — family, friends — and fly anywhere they wanted on a vacation.
“I was like, ‘Bro, we know it, we’ve just got to do better overall,'” Hodge recalled. “‘Get better jobs. We should be living like that.’ That was the mission.”
They never really talked like this, Hodge said. But Lloyd was 27 years old and starting to think about these things, most likely because he was hanging out with New England Patriotstight end Aaron Hernandez.
His relationship with Hernandez had given Lloyd a glimpse of the life he’d dreamed of. Not only was Hernandez playing football for money — for millions — he was on the team Lloyd loved. Hernandez used to get him tickets to Patriots games. On at least one occasion, Hernandez, according to one of Lloyd’s friends, had dropped $10,000 on a night of clubbing with Lloyd, and of course Lloyd couldn’t believe it. Hernandez had promised Lloyd he’d fly him to California for a vacation. You’ve got to see Cali, he told him. Lloyd, who was working at a landscaping company, had never been there, Hodge said.
On the night of June 16, Lloyd was driving a shiny, black Chevy Suburban that Hernandez had rented for him. Hernandez, according to Hodge, told Lloyd he could keep it until Monday. Lloyd seemed always to be smiling, but his grin was even wider that weekend when he was behind the wheel of the SUV. Since he didn’t have a car of his own, Lloyd pedaled his bike to work. He put a positive spin on his transportation issues, figuring the extra exercise would give him an edge on the field with the semipro Boston Bandits. But then Lloyd pulled up in the Suburban that Saturday, the night the Bandits had a scrimmage, and the team was impressed. “Nice car,” they told him. Bandits assistant coach Mike Branch did a double-take. “I looked at him like, ‘Odin’ — excuse my language — ‘but whose f—ing car is that?'” Branch said.
Lloyd was star-struck — “Who wouldn’t be?” Branch said — but didn’t brag about his friendship with Hernandez. They had met sometime in the past two years through Lloyd’s girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna. When someone would ask about the football player with the $40 million contract, Lloyd simply told his friends that Hernandez was a cool guy.
That night of June 16, Lloyd was supposed to watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals with Hodge. Lloyd would not root for the Miami Heat; as a Bostonian, that seemed treasonous. Sometime before the game, Lloyd’s old Blackberry jangled with a message from his boss, who said Lloyd had landscape work to do on Monday. So he grabbed some leftover barbecue and took Hodge home in the SUV.
They were about to say goodbye around 9 p.m. when Lloyd got a text. The person on the other end asked if he wanted to hang out. And then Lloyd said he might go out after all, and Hodge went home to watch the basketball game.
Days later, the barbecue Hodge’s cousin had packed up for Lloyd still sat in Lloyd’s refrigerator. “He was supposed to be at home eating,” Hodge said. “Not out and about.”
The future that Odin Lloyd dreamily talked about lasted less than 10 hours. At roughly 3:30 a.m. on June 17, Lloyd was shot five times in the chest and back. Aaron Hernandez is now sitting in the Bristol County (Mass.) House of Corrections, charged with first-degree murder and five gun-related offenses. He is being held without bail.
As the story of two men with similar dreams but completely different lives continues to unfold, all that the people close to Lloyd have are grief and questions. Why would Hernandez, who seemingly had everything, do something that would cause him to lose it all? Why, if he is guilty of killing Lloyd, would he leave the body in an industrial area less than a mile from his mansion? Why would Lloyd get into a Nissan Altima with Hernandez at roughly 2:30 a.m., only hours before he was supposed to work? Did he know he was in danger?
Mike Branch, who coached Lloyd in high school and adulthood, has been tossing and turning over these questions for more than a week.
“Those thoughts are going through my head,” Branch said. “‘Odin, if you felt fear, why did you get in the car?’
“It had to be trust, man.”