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Candlelight vigil honors high school star turned NFL athlete O.J. Murdock following apparent suicide

11:52 PM, Jul 30, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida- With the glow of candles and the sound of "Amazing Grace," friends, family, and classmates gathered in the parking lot of Middleton High School.

"These candles teach us a life about how precious life is and how quickly we can be gone. In the twinkling of eye," said Michael Muhammad, who addressed the crowd as one of the event organizers.

Those who knew O.J. Murdock best say Middleton is where the young athlete blossomed, not just on the field but as a leader among his peers.

"When we used to lose games, some people would take it hard," recalled former Middleton Class President Lindsey Askew. "O.J. was always that strong person who would say 'Keep your head up, it's OK, you'll get through it.'"

Marcus Boothe, who remembered watching O.J. play at Middleton, was a member of the school's marching band and graduated the same year. Boothe played "Amazing Grace" on his saxophone.

"A lot of people saw a great potential in O.J. He was an outstanding athlete, so it's really just a great loss," said Boothe.

The Middleton High School parking lot is where the high school star turned Tennessee Titan took his own life. He was found dead of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound early Monday morning.

"Everybody wants the answers today, but today you're not going to get the answers," said Roosevelt Lawrence, who watched O.J. grow up playing football with his own son. "You got to get down on your knees and you got to talk to God... and he will heal your heart and get you through this sad occasion."

"I would say you need to put your arms around the family, you have to be strong for the family," said O.J.'s former high school coach, Harry Hubbard.

And as OJ's aunt and cousins struggled to hold back tears, there was a clear message for anyone else dealing with tough times.

"Some kids think they can't talk to someone so they keep it all balled up in them," said O.J.'s aunt, Vanessa Jones. "Go and talk to somebody and maybe somebody can be steered in the right direction."

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