By TIM REYNOLDS
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 1:05 AM
-- University of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed Tuesday night at his apartment complex, school officials said.
The shooting occurred about two hours after the Hurricanes ended their afternoon practice.
Pata, a 22-year-old senior who grew up in Miami, was pronounced dead in the parking lot outside his apartment, and his death was ruled a homicide, Miami-Dade police spokesman Roy Rutland said.
"Right now, we're just gathering ourselves and just trying to pull ourselves together," Miami athletic director Paul Dee said.
Rutland said police were called at 7:30 p.m. to the scene and found Pata's body. He lived about 4 miles from campus.
"Tonight the University of Miami tragically lost a member of our football family, Bryan Pata," the university athletic department said in a release. "Bryan was a fine person and a great competitor. He will be forever missed by his coaches and teammates. We offer our thoughts and prayers to his family."
The university also urged anyone with information about Pata's death to call police.
The circumstances around Pata's death were not immediately clear, and Miami-Dade police did not say who made the 911 call after the shooting.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman was in his fourth year with the Hurricanes. He appeared in 41 games, making 23 starts, and was expected to be selected in next spring's NFL draft.
Word spread quickly around campus, and grief counselors quickly were summoned to work with Pata's teammates, who left the university's athletic complex shortly before midnight. A team meeting to discuss plans for a memorial was scheduled for Wednesday.
"Pata was a guidance counselor in a way of our football team," Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman told The AP. "He wasn't the captain of the team, yet people would look to Pata for direction on the way things are going. He was definitely a great leader."
Annette Ponnock, Miami's student body president, said Pata _ a fierce player on the field and a somewhat soft-spoken one off it _ was well known and popular on campus.
"Everyone is just more surprised than anything else," Ponnock said. "He's such a personality on campus. It was just really, really shocking to have such a loss. ... He was a big guy so it was kind of hard to miss him. He just had a presence about him."
The Hurricanes used Pata primarily at defensive tackle this season, and he had 13 tackles and two sacks.
Miami is supposed to play at No. 23 Maryland Saturday. There has not been any announcement about whether that game will happen as scheduled.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford was aware of the shooting and was working with Miami officials to gather information, conference spokeswoman Amy Yakola said.
It was at least the fourth time that tragedy involving a player has struck the Hurricanes in recent years.
In April 1996, reserve linebacker and Miami native Marlin Barnes was murdered in a campus apartment. And in 2003, former Miami safety Al Blades was killed in a car accident, about a year after former Miami linebacker Chris Campbell _ who had just completed his eligibility with the Hurricanes _ also died in a crash.
Pata's death was the second incident involving guns this season for the Hurricanes.
In July, reserve safety Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks when confronted in his yard before an early morning workout. Cooper was not seriously injured. Brandon Meriweather, one of Cooper's teammates and roommates, returned fire at Cooper's assailant, taking three shots that apparently missed, police said.
Several Miami players, including Pata, said that incident was a robbery attempt, and cautioned other teammates to always be aware of their surroundings.
"We're targets because we play for the University of Miami. ... These guys, they know who we are," Miami linebacker Jon Beason said shortly after the Cooper shooting.
That incident prompted Miami coach Larry Coker to say that he did not want his players to have guns, even if they possessed them legally.
Associated Press Writers David Fischer and Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.