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Gun violence hits home again for Redskins running back Kapri Bibbs

Running back Kapri Bibbs, right, celebrates a touchdown against the Cardinals last season. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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“I love you cuz rest easy.”

Kapri Bibbs typed the words on social media, still unable to process the news, still unable to let go of yet another family member. The Washington Redskins running back has said goodbye to loved ones more times than he cares to count. But this is a way of life for the 25-year-old.

Even so, playing through emotional pain is never easy.

Bibbs arrived in Richmond for training camp as one of several backs fighting for a roster spot; each day he stepped onto the practice field with a heavy heart. His 28-year-old cousin, Nicholas Edwards, was shot to death in a triple homicide July 15 in Gary, Ind. According to local news reports, Edwards and a friend, Darius Ross, 28, of Gary, were found by police dead in a vehicle around 8 a.m. The body of Ross’s fiancee, Heather Talley, 27, of Hammond, Ind., was found nearby in Ross’s home.

The three had gone out the night before to celebrate Ross’s birthday.

“Right before I was going into camp, he was telling me, ‘Go out and have a great year,’ and, ‘Just play like how you played back in high school,’ and reminding me of the times when I was dominant and breaking all these records,” Bibbs said during a quiet moment after practice. “You can’t replace that. I’ll never be able to see him again. That’s tough.”

The news was “devastating” for Bibbs, who said he was raised with Edwards in the same “three-bedroom house with 23 kids” in Harvey, Ill., a southern suburb of Chicago. The running back said Edwards “helped raise” one of his younger brothers “because we got split up into different households and went into foster care. He stayed with him, so they were real, real close. They were inseparable. So it’s hard. I just prayed and made sure I talked to [my little brother]. We stayed up and talked about stuff, reminisced. We knew he’d be watching over us.”

Ask Bibbs how he copes with repeated loss, and he’ll tell you that death is commonplace.

The cycle repeats. Gun violence gives way to unnecessary tragedies, fractured families and seemingly irreparable damage to communities. Death, to him, has long been ever-present.

“I’d be lying if I said this is the first close family member I lost to a shooting,” he said, crestfallen. “I lost my cousin, Chris, to a shooting. I lost my other cousin. My best friend in sixth grade to a shooting.”

Bibbs added: “Where I’m from, that’s kind of like ‘the thing’ — gun violence. That’s what’s taking people away so early, and that’s what’s killing me. One day you see a person, the next day you can’t hear from them.”

After spending one season at Colorado State, Bibbs signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 2014. After separate stints on their practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster Oct. 17, 2015, in advance of a game against the Cleveland Browns. That same weekend, his grandfather died.

“He was like my father,” Bibbs said. “I remember that like it was yesterday, and I had to go out and play in a whole NFL game. I just knew that’s what he would want for me. He would want me to be doing this. He would want me to go out and give it my all and put all of my focus into this because he knew how much I loved it, he knew how much I wanted this — just like Nick.”

Loss is a part of life, he said. He has no choice but to keep playing. To keep trying. To make it.

As was the case during his two seasons in Denver and a brief 2017 stint in San Francisco, Bibbs again finds himself fighting for a roster spot. The injury to second-round pick Derrius Guice means more reps for the six remaining running backs, but with veterans Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley viewed as locks to make the 53-man roster (barring injury) and Byron Marshall impressing, Bibbs understands the difficult task at hand.

But football challenges don’t faze him. Not after everything he has endured.

Three weeks before he was signed by Washington at the end of last season, Bibbs had a dream that he’d soon be wearing the Redskins’ “mustard-color” uniform. And he was right. To compensate for a rash of running back injuries, including Thompson and Kelley being on injured reserve, the organization added Bibbs to the squad, and he made the most of his opportunities over the final three regular season games. He rushed 21 times for 79 yards and caught 14 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Now, he’s hoping to prove that he still belongs.

During moments like these, Edwards would be calling. He’d phone his little cousin simply to check on him, but more importantly to offer support during the grueling, hot summer months and the football days ahead.

“He’d call me, telling me about camp and reminding me about football stuff that I do, like it was him,” Bibbs said, smiling. “So I know how proud of me he was. That alone was enough for me to be like: ‘Okay, I know you’re watching over me. And I know you’re here for me.’ ”

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