Here was a kid, his football coach at Gaithersburg High School thought back in 2006, who had done everything right: Study hard enough to get good grades, train hard enough to catch recruiters’ attention, head off to a fine college on an athletic scholarship.
But some time after Michael Kirby Alvarado left Montgomery County for the College of William and Mary, his life took a turn. Police arrested him in Virginia on drug and theft charges, and he eventually returned to Gaithersburg without a degree.
And in the middle of the afternoon Thursday, at an apartment complex half a mile from his home, Alvarado, 25, was shot and killed. Police on Friday continued to search for two suspects.
“He was a good kid, no matter what went down yesterday,” his high school coach, Kreg Kephart, said in an interview, getting choked up over recollections of the student and player he knew. “Everything was always good with Michael.”
Montgomery police released few details of their investigation Friday, other than identifying Alvarado as the victim. He was found just after 2:30 p.m., lying outside a three-story building in the Streamside Apartments complex. In interviews, two nearby residents said they heard two gunshots, and a third resident said she heard three. “Bam, bam, like big shots,” Kevin Hernandez said.
Police said that one of the assailants was dressed all in black and that the other was wearing a black-and-white striped shirt. Officers swarmed into the apartment complex and searched nearby woods, but the two got away.
As word spread Friday that Alvarado had been killed, those who knew him had to deal with anguish and haunting questions of how he died. He was born March 5, 1988, in Oakland, Calif., according to football media guides at William and Mary. His mother died when he was 8, according to Kephart, his football coach, who said Alvarado was raised by his father and an older sister.
At Gaithersburg High School, he served as senior class president, according to the William and Mary media guide. And he was a star football player, earning an honorable mention listing in The Washington Post’s All-Met football team.
He was fast and strong, but it was the way he could motivate teammates that stood out to his coach. “Probably one of the best leaders I’ve ever had,” said Kephart, who has coached at Gaithersburg for nearly 30 years.
On Friday, Kephart recalled a game against rival Damascus High School. The team was in the locker room, just before kickoff. Kephart was about to deliver a pep talk.
“Coach, I’d like to speak,” Alvarado said, having written some things down on a piece of paper.
Kephart let him, sitting back to hear an inspiring speech about rising to challenges, overcoming obstacles. When he was done, Alvarado crumpled the paper and threw it on the ground in a gesture that signaled it was time to go play. In Kephart’s mind, his squad was ready to win. “Michael, there’s nothing I can add to that,” Kephart said.
At the time, the coach’s son was about 8 years old, a ball boy on the team. He scooted over to grab the crumpled paper on the floor, folded it neatly and put it in his pocket.
In high school, Alvarado wrote a poem about his mother, which was published in a school publication, his coach recalled. “If you read that and you didn’t cry, you weren’t human,” Kephart said.
“When I think of him, I think of his smile,” the coach said. “It was captivating. He could win you over by just flashing that smile.”
Kephart recalls looking up at the stands this past season and thinking he saw Alvarado in the crowd, sporting a beard. The coach didn’t get a chance to speak to him, and the two hadn’t spoken for several years.
“It’s just tragic,” Kephart said. “He was a bright, bright young man.”
At William and Mary, Alvarado pursued a major in business, according to the football media guides. His bearing quickly made a mark there as well. “Magnetic personality,” said Pete Clawson, media relations director of the school’s athletic department.
“He was definitely the life of the locker room before games,” said Bryan Stinnie, a teammate. “He would start chants and dance and jump around singing. He was full of energy.”
Alvarado withdrew from the school in spring 2010 without receiving a degree, a school spokeswoman said.
At about the same time, according to online court papers, he began to have run-ins with the law, resulting in convictions in Virginia of crimes including grand larceny and possession of cocaine.
Jennifer Jenkins and Nick Anderson contributed to this report.