About nine hours after his Huskies walked off Rentschler Field with a victory over Louisville, after a press conference filled with smiles and platitudes, UConn football coach Randy Edsall's phone rang. When the phone rings at that hour, Edsall said, it's never good.
Edsall would have to go to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford to identify a body.
Jasper Howard, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound junior cornerback for the Huskies, was dead after an on-campus stabbing early Sunday. Pictures: Jasper Howard's Career At UConn
Howard, 20, who was soon to become a father, was stabbed near the Student Union.
Police said a second stabbing victim, an unidentified male who was with Howard, was treated and released from the hospital. Howard died of a stab wound to the abdomen, according to the medical examiner's office.
After Edsall identified the body, he broke the news to Howard's family and to the UConn players.
"There's nothing written in the manual in how to deal with these situations," Edsall said at an emotional press conference. "But I know this — this is a strong team, with strong leadership, and we'll get through it."
The state police major crimes unit and UConn police said the stabbing happened just after 12:30 a.m. on Hillside Road near the center of campus. It occurred after a party in the Student Union that was attended by more than 300 people, said Maj. Ron Blicher of the UConn Police Department.
Police are searching for a killer they believe is not a UConn student, but he has not been identified, according to Blicher.
Howard's girlfriend, who lives in Miami and does not attend UConn, was on campus over the weekend. It is believed she was not at the party.
At the press conference attended by UConn President Michael Hogan, athletic director Jeff Hathaway and Edsall, Blicher said witnesses have been interviewed.
"There is no specific reason to believe [the suspect] is a danger to our community," said Blicher, who added that campus police were at the party. "And I will point out the fact that this stabbing was subsequent to an altercation that occurred, so I will call this not a random act of violence. The university does not have an individual walking around just stabbing people. This was definitely subsequent to the altercation that occurred."
Howard, who is from Miami and graduated from Miami Edison High School, was airlifted by Life Star from Windham Community Memorial Hospital to St. Francis, where he died.
"I was called into the operating room to identify the body, 4, 4:30 [a.m. Sunday], somewhere in that range," Edsall said. "And then I got on the phone with the doctor, Dr. Marshall, and had to make a phone call to Jasper's family. I proceeded from there to go down and address the student athletes who were there, the students who were there in a room and, needless to say, that was not a very enjoyable moment for me."
"[It was time to be] a father, to be a coach, to let them know what we were going to do to get through this terrible tragedy that occurred to a great young man."
Howard, known as "Jazz" to his teammates, often talked about his tough time growing up in Miami. His mother, Joangila, worked many jobs to support him and his sisters, Keyondra and Jasmine, who is afflicted with meningitis.
Howard, the first in his family to go to college, also spoke often about his dream of making it professionally so he could support his family.
"He was a good child, a wonderful, sweet, loving child," Joangila Howard told CNN affiliate WSVN. "I just hope whoever did it turns himself in. [Jasper] didn't deserve this."
Howard was popular on campus, often playing basketball with members of the UConn men's and women's teams. Close friend Tina Charles was visibly shaken when told of the news at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday.
On Saturday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Howard made a career-high 11 tackles and forced a fumble he recovered in the 38-25 victory over Louisville.
"The team, since early this morning, we've been grieving quite a bit," said punter and captain Desi Cullen. "The bond you create and that Jazz created ... he made an impact not only on me but every individual in this program.
"Before this morning, people may have looked at him as a teammate, as a friend, but ever since he set foot on this campus he was our brother. Hearing the news that he's a father breaks my heart."
Police said the stabbing happened at the end of a dance, sponsored by the university's West Indian Student Awareness Organization. A fire alarm was pulled at 12:26 a.m., an altercation occurred outside the building between two groups of people and then two people were stabbed.
No incident occurred that would have caused the alarm to be pulled, Blicher said.
Howard's death makes him the third Connecticut college student killed on or near campus in the past six months. In September, Yale University graduate student Annie Le, 24, was found strangled and stuffed into a wall in a school laboratory. Raymond Clark III, 24, who was working as a university lab technician in Le's research building, has been charged with her slaying.
In May, Wesleyan University junior Johanna Justin-Jinich was working at a university bookstore and cafe a few blocks from campus when Stephen Morgan allegedly walked in and fatally shot her. Police said he had stalked her.
UConn is offering grief counseling to students, officials said. The university's counseling and mental health services office will be open today until 4:30 p.m. to assist students. The office is behind the infirmary, near the chemistry building. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If students would like help outside of the office hours provided, they may call the 24-hour number: 860-486-4705.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell was on campus early Sunday to offer support and personal condolences.
"I know that our community is grieving this loss, and are distressed by the violence that is involved," Hogan said. "We extend our deepest condolences to Jasper's family, friends and teammates at this time of incredible sorrow."
A spokesman at the state medical examiner's office said an autopsy likely will be performed today.
Funeral services are pending.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday at the Student Union before the West Virginia game is played in Morgantown, W.Va.
Courant Staff Writers Scott Powers and Regine Labossiere contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun