STORRS, Conn. - For the University of Connecticut community, celebration turned to tragedy when a starting member of the football team was stabbed to death in a fight early yesterday, hours after helping his team to a homecoming victory over Louisville.
“I was in the locker room after the game yesterday. It was such a joyous moment,’’ said UConn’s president, Michael Hogan. “To go from that game and such a victory to the developments at 12:30 last night is such a tragedy.’’
Jasper Howard, 20, of Miami, and another student were stabbed just after 12:30 a.m., during a fight after a fire alarm was pulled during a university-sponsored dance at the UConn Student Union, police said. Police have not identified a suspect or released the name of the other victim.
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said the team was heartbroken and devastated over the loss of Howard, a junior and the team’s starting cornerback, who came to the school to get away from the violence on the streets of his hometown and became the first person in his family to go to college.
“I know this,’’ Edsall said, his eyes red and welling with tears. “He loved UConn; he loved his teammates; he loved everything about this.’’ Edsall said Howard was soon to become a father.
The coach gathered his team at its training facility at 6 a.m. to deliver the news. “As Jazz looks down on us, I can promise him and his family, that son or daughter will have 105 uncles,’’ said punter Desi Cullen, a team captain, during an afternoon news conference. “And we will do what it takes to not get through this, but to grow from it.’’
Howard made a key move in Saturday’s game, forcing a fumble just as Louisville was about to score. The Huskies were up 21-13 at the time. They beat the Cardinals 38-25. Following the game, Howard, who led the Big East in punt returns last season, talked about the play.
“I felt my hand go on the ball and I felt that I had a chance to get it out. I just stripped it out. It was a big play. We needed it,’’ he said.
Edsall said the team will not practice until tomorrow, but plans to play Saturday at West Virginia. He said teammates would wear some remembrance of Howard, and would plan a more permanent memorial at the team’s training center.
“The Howard family will get through this, as well as the UConn family,’’ Edsall said. “Because we are determined and we are willing to make sure that Jazz will be honored in the right way, and how we do things is what he’ll be expecting out of all of us.’’
UConn police Major Ronald Blicher said Howard was stabbed after a fight between two groups that included students and nonstudents, which broke out just after a fire alarm went off in the student center, forcing the evacuation of about 300 people. Police cordoned off the crime scene near the university’s Gampel Pavilion basketball arena.
“We have been actively interviewing people through the night and day, and we continue to seek anybody who might have information,’’ Blicher said.
Howard and the other student who was stabbed were taken by ambulance to Windham Community Memorial Hospital, where the other victim was treated and released. Howard was later airlifted by helicopter to Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, where he died from his injuries.
The school was arranging for Howard’s parents to come to Connecticut. The junior also had two teenage sisters.
Governor M. Jodi Rell visited the campus yesterday to offer her condolences.