The death of a star quarterback in a New Jersey high school game has left his friends, family and fans in a state of disbelief as they await answers from an autopsy.
Evan Murray, the senior quarterback at Warren Hills Regional High School, collapsed on the sideline Friday night during a game against Summit in Washington, N.J., and died Saturday in Morristown Medical Center. It is unclear exactly what happened to Murray, who had taken a hit in the backfield shortly before he collapsed. His classmates and teammates were as baffled as everyone else over what killed an athlete who also starred in baseball and basketball.
“He was laying on the ground and everyone was looking at him,” Taylor Coughlin, a 16-year-old junior, told LehighValleyLive.com’s Jim Deegan. “He did get back up. He stood up with help and sat on a gurney.”
In retrospect, something didn’t seem quite right to those who were present.
“He walked off the field and we all thought it was just a hit,” said Tim Woolf, one of Murray’s friends and a teammate on the baseball team, told NJ.com’s Matthew Stanmyre.
Said Austin Hamler, a senior cornerback: “He seemed slow to get up at times.”
Still, there was no frightening moment or hit that stood out.
“I’m not sure if it was that last hit on him that actually did the damage, or previous plays,” junior defensive end Bailey Lieberman, who was sidelined by an injury, said. “I do know that he wasn’t feeling too good prior to the hit and seemed tired. He did take a pretty hard hit just before the last [hit], where he took a helmet to the stomach.”
Hamler said he could point to no particular play, and senior tackle Oscar Vega echoed that statement. “But,” Vega added, “the last play before the half, he got hit and we helped him to the sideline.”
William Heerwagen, a 17-year-old classmate who has played on teams with Murray in the past and was at the game Friday, said (via NBC News) that the play “looked like a normal tackle.” Murray was briefly on the ground, then walked off with coaches. On the sideline, “he kind of stumbled and then when I looked over, he was on the ground. We thought at worse it was a concussion and that we’d see him Monday.”
Bailey Reyes, Murray’s girlfriend, shared a photo of the impromptu memorial and wrote on Instagram: “September 25, 2015 will forever be the worst day of my life. I lost the love of my life because of a football accident. I cannot thank you enough Evan for loving me like you did and filling each and every day with laughter and smiles. You are my best friend and I knew I was going to marry you one day. I miss you so incredibly much and am struggling a lot but I know you are my guardian angel and are forever with me. I love you times infinity and always remember I also love you more. Fly high my love.”
His coaches praised his strong, level-headed leadership qualities, but for all his teammates, there will be a lasting camaraderie. Anthony Veneziano, a classmate who was on the baseball and basketball teams with Murray, was at Friday’s game and told LeHighValley.com’s Kyle Craig that “he was a brother to us. We’re all brothers. We’re going to be brothers forever.”
A GoFundMe account has raised more than $31,000 for Murray’s family, and news of his death resonated across New Jersey, even with NFL players present and past, as well as the state’s governor.
Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Evan Murray.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) September 26, 2015
I want to send out my prayers and condolences to the family of Evan Murray. Sad day in NJ. #bless
— Plaxico Burress (@plaxicoburress) September 26, 2015
My deepest condolences go out to Evan Murray's family, friends and the Warren Hills Regional High School community in New Jersey.
— Trent Cole (@Pro_Hunt58) September 27, 2015
On behalf of all the people of New Jersey, Mary Pat and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Murray family on the loss of Evan.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) September 26, 2015