We are accustomed in times of death and loss to the social media condolences, but the unfathomable tragedy that befell Todd Heap and his family Friday resonated far more deeply as athletes and others tried to comprehend the depth of the loss the Heaps have experienced.
Heap, the 37-year-old former Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals tight end, accidentally drove over his 3-year-old daughter, killing her as he moved his truck in the driveway of the family’s Mesa, Ariz., home. She was pronounced dead at a Phoenix-area hospital and, although authorities are investigating, they indicated there was no sign that Heap was impaired or that what happened was anything other than a parent’s worst nightmare.
What happened to Heap, a popular player who retired in 2013, moved people in and out of sports, mostly because so many understand how easily such an accident could happen to anyone. Social media reactions often carried emoji of broken hearts and hands folded in prayer. The Ravens may have put the magnitude of what happened best, calling the accident “knee-buckling news” for Heap, his wife, Ashley, and their other four children in a statement.
“We cannot imagine the heartbreak and sorrow Todd and Ashley’s family feels right now. This is knee-buckling news and an overwhelmingly sad tragedy. Our prayers, our thoughts and our hearts are with the Heaps, who have contributed so much to the Ravens and Baltimore community. We believe their deep faith and tremendous support from friends and family will help them through this unimaginable time.”
Jonathan Ogden, the former Ravens tackle, called the news “disturbing” in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. “I can’t imagine the pain he is going through right now,” Ogden said. “He has got to carry this the rest of his life, and he is going to think about it quite often. Man, there are no words. There is nothing I can say to tell you how I feel right now. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. He has to keep the faith, got to keep moving and somehow get on with his life. This is just terrible and I just wish there was something I could do. I’m at a loss for words. I feel for him.”
O.J. Brigance, the former Raven who is dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, tweeted his heartache for the family, adding, “I pray for God’s comfort during this excruciating loss of life.”
Chad Greenway, the former Minnesota Vikings linebacker, pointed out what most were feeling. “It could happen to anybody,” he tweeted, “and I can’t imagine the grief.”
Similar incidents happen all to frequently. Kidsandcars.org statistics show that there were 39 “frontover” fatalities involving children in 2016, with the organization telling the Associated Press that more than 800 have been killed in the last two decades in “frontovers.” Safekids.org reporting that trucks and sport utility vehicles are most often involved because of what Kids and Cars President Janette Fennell told the Associated Press are blind zones in front of and behind vehicles.
The Cardinals called the accident “a grief that is beyond words and one which no family should experience.” Even those with no Ravens or Cardinals ties, such as Pierre Garcon and J.J. Watt were moved to tweet. Watt, the Houston Texans’ defensive end, tweeted that he was “absolutely gutted for Todd Heap and his family. Thoughts are with them in this incredibly tough time.”
Jay Feely, the former NFL kicker who also played for the Cardinals, tweeted, “My heart is broken for Todd Heap and his family. One of the kindest persons I’ve ever met and a man who lives for his family.”
The incident involving the little girl, whose name has not been released, occurred at about 3:45 p.m. on Good Friday. Mesa police told ESPN that there were no suspicious circumstances and the Maricopa County medical examiner has not released a cause of death.
Over and over again, people mentioned Heap’s strong faith, with the Cardinals’ statement saying, “Hopefully the prayers, love and support of their incredible group of friends and family provide him the comfort that, along with their strong faith, will lead them through this unspeakably difficult time.”
Heap is a devout Mormon who grew up in Mesa and has been active there and in the Baltimore community. In 2007, he pledged $1 million toward a pediatric center that was the first of its kind in Baltimore County. The Todd Heap Family Pediatric Center offers a combined pediatric emergency department and inpatient unit with round-the-clock pediatrician staffing.
“We are so deeply saddened by this unspeakable tragedy facing our friend, Todd Heap, and his family,” Samuel E. Moskowitz, president of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and senior vice president for MedStar Health said, via the Sun.
“It was with his kind, heartfelt support in 2007 that we opened the Todd Heap Family Pediatric Center in the emergency department at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, where every child who has come through those doors since gently reminds us of the indelible legacy Todd left in our community. On behalf of all of us at MedStar Franklin Square, we offer our prayers and support to the Heap family during this difficult time.”
Heap, who led his high school football team to two state championships, starred at Arizona State.
“The Heaps have contributed so much to the Arizona State Sun Devils, Baltimore Ravens, and Arizona Cardinals communities, and we hope their family, friends and our respective communities can provide them with love and support as they work through this unspeakable heartbreak,” the school said in a statement.
Heap spent the bulk of his career with the Ravens, who drafted him with the 31st overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. A member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor, he signed with the Cardinals in 2011, appearing in 10 games with them that season and in two in 2012. He retired with 42 career touchdowns in 2013.