Aaron Hernandez Family Members, Friends Defend NFL Star: He's Not a Gang-Banger!

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The murder case against former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez has shocked the country, but those who know him well say to reserve judgment.

Aaron Hernandez Arrest Photo

He was a fun-loving teenager at Bristol Central High School, where he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, D.J., a tight end at the University of Connecticut.

Some recall him struggling with the death of his father, Dennis, in 2006, but staying determined to become a pro athlete, spending hours working out before and after school.

As Bristol police assist Massachusetts investigators, arresting one local man as a fugitive from justice, the community is left to ponder the fall of the hometown hero.

A former high school teammate, Andrew Ragali, 24, said the troubled street hood he has seen portrayed on TV is not the Aaron Hernandez he knew.

"You could maybe say he was immature, but he wasn't a gang-banger," Ragali said.

"Not at all. I think when he went to college things might have changed, hanging around with the wrong people, but in high school, he wasn't like that at all."

Ragali recalled seeing Hernandez again, years after high school, at a Hartford bar.

He described him as quieter, and with many more tattoos. But said he was still very nice, asked about his family and took pictures with his girlfriend.

It was after his father's death that Hernandez began smoking marijuana and hanging out with a rough crowd, Hernandez's mother, Terri, told USA Today.

"The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger," she said.

Hernandez's mother works in the office at the local South Side elementary school, and other family members still live in Bristol, a city now in shock.

"All I can say is that he will be cleared of all these charges in the end," she told the Bristol Press outside her home Wednesday. "Just let it play out until the end."

The 23-year-old Hernandez was arrested Wednesday at his mansion in North Attleborough, Mass., and accused of orchestrating the execution of his friend, Odin Lloyd.

Alll allegedly because Lloyd had talked to the wrong people at a nightclub.

He was denied bail at a hearing Thursday in a Massachusetts courtroom, where his lawyer argued his client is not a risk to flee and the case against him is circumstantial.

Hernandez, who is being investigated for two more murders - this time stemming from a drive-by shooting in Boston - remains behind bars, however.

On June 16, the night before the slaying, a prosecutor said, Hernandez texted two friends and asked them to hurry to Massachusetts from Connecticut.

A few minutes later, he texted Lloyd to tell him he wanted to get together, the prosecutor said. Authorities said surveillance footage showed the friends arriving.

They did not say who they believe fired the shots.

Bristol police have been assisting investigators in Massachusetts and that Carlos Ortiz, 27, of Bristol, had been charged as a fugitive from justice.

He is being held on $1.5 million bail in Hartford.

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