Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting early Monday, his limousine sprayed with bullets in downtown Denver.
Team spokesman Jim Saccomano said police called him about 3 a.m. from the scene and told him three people had been shot, and the 24-year-old Williams had been killed. His death came hours after the Denver Broncos were eliminated from the playoff race.
A little after 2 a.m., a white Hummer limousine was fired on from a vehicle that pulled up along its side, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. As many as a dozen bullet holes were visible on the driver's side of the vehicle. One window was blown out and four others had bullet holes.
Three people in the limo were hit and taken to hospitals, where one man was pronounced dead, Jackson said. The other man and woman who were shot were not identified.
Jackson said police were searching for suspects.
"We have no motive yet," he said. "We're hoping to talk with witnesses to find out where they were coming from, and that might give us some clues."
The limo sat in a snowbank beside Speer Boulevard, a main street through downtown. Police and technicians worked amid snow and ice from recent storms, using small yellow plastic markers to indicate possible evidence.
Saccomano said he spoke with coach Mike Shanahan and others in the organization. Hours earlier, the Broncos lost to San Francisco 26-23 in overtime.
"Complete shock. We're speechless. It takes words away," Saccomano said.
"It is a terrible tragedy," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello added. "We don't know all the details yet, but we are reaching out to the Broncos to offer our support."
The previous active NFL player to die was Thomas Herrion of San Francisco. He had a heart attack following an exhibition game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005.
Champ Bailey was among the Broncos players and staff members who gathered at Denver Health Medical Center, where Williams' body was taken.
"He had a big heart and a lot of courage," said Cedric Smith, assistant strength and conditioning coach. "It's a tragedy, a complete tragedy. It's sickening."
Williams teamed with Bailey to give Denver one of the NFL's top cornerback tandems. Williams finished the season with 88 tackles, 78 of them solo, and four interceptions.
Players and coaches were off Monday and were scheduled to meet Tuesday before heading home for the offseason.
On Sunday against the 49ers, Williams had three tackles and returned two punts for 50 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury late in the second half. After the game he said he planned to wait a few weeks before deciding if he needed an operation.
Williams, a second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State in 2005, made an immediate impact on the Broncos. He started nine times in his rookie season following a stellar college career.
Anthony Criss, Williams' high school football coach in Fort Worth, Texas, spoke with the cornerback often, and as recently as two weeks ago.
"When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd," Criss said. "I remember he went to church and the minister was talking to him about needing to pray and stop hanging around with the wrong people, and he started straightening up and doing the right thing."
Williams matured at Oklahoma State, turning his eye toward pro football, Criss said.
"I visited him his junior year, and he was grown," Criss said. "Everything was, `Yes, sir. No, sir.'"
In December, Williams spoke of returning to his hometown this offseason to talk to youngsters about staying out of gangs. Williams, who has two young children in the Fort Worth area, recently talked to Criss about establishing a free football camp for youth players.
"He had great compassion," Criss said. "He always wanted to try to make sure people did the right thing. He wanted to be a good parent, a good father, a good example for his kids. He will be missed."