Former Raven Todd Heap fatally hits 3-year-old daughter in car accident. (WJZ)
When he took his place in the Ravens' Ring of Honor in September 2014, longtime NFL tight end Todd Heap was flanked on the M&T Bank Stadium field by several family members and former teammates.
"It's all about family," Heap said at halftime of the game between the Ravens and Carolina Panthers. "From day one, you have welcomed my wife and I, our family, into our community, this city. For that, we'll be forever grateful."
In playing 10 of his 12 NFL seasons with the Ravens, Heap became an immense fan favorite because of his daring and acrobatic catches over the middle and his tireless work in the community.
On Saturday, the Ravens, several of his former teammates and other members of the NFL community expressed their sympathy and support for Heap, his wife, Ashley, and their family as they deal with the tragic death of the youngest of their five children.
Authorities said Heap accidentally ran over and killed his 3-year old daughter as he was moving his truck in the driveway of his suburban Phoenix home. The girl was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead, authorities said.
"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," the Ravens organization said in a statement Saturday morning. "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."
The accident, which happened at approximately 3:45 p.m. Friday, remains under investigation, but impairment was not a factor, according to Mesa (Ariz.) police.
Heap, 37, was born in Mesa and starred at Arizona State before being selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2001 draft. He was with the team from 2001 to 2010 before moving on to spend two injury-filled seasons with his hometown Arizona Cardinals in 2011 and 2012.
With the Ravens, Heap appeared in 133 regular-season games and made 467 catches for 5,492 yards, both ranking him second in franchise history behind Derrick Mason. His 41 receiving touchdowns and 74 consecutive games with a reception still stand as Ravens records. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2002 and 2003.
Heap, who remains close friends with several current Ravens, including quarterback Joe Flacco and tight end Dennis Pitta, has returned to Baltimore on numerous occasions over the past couple of years for different team and charity events. Anytime he appears on the stadium video screens, he's serenaded with chants of "Heeeeeap."
"This is very sad. Todd is an incredible family man, and family has always been extremely important to him. His kids are very important, plus he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet," said Peter Boulware, Heap's longtime Ravens teammate. "This breaks my heart. He knows that our prayers and the prayers of the Ravens extended family go out to him. If there is anything we can do, he knows we will reach out. I have five kids myself, so I can't imagine anything like this."
Former Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden heard the news shortly after he returned from a Hawaii vacation with his family.
"This is so disturbing. 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."
A devout Mormon and one of six siblings, Heap talked regularly about making an impact off the field. He particularly enjoyed helping children. In 2007, he pledged $1 million toward a new pediatric center at what is now MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.
The Todd Heap Family Pediatric Center offers a combined pediatric emergency department and inpatient unit with around-the-clock pediatrician staffing, the first of its kind in Baltimore County.
"We are so deeply saddened by this unspeakable tragedy facing our friend, Todd Heap, and his family," said Samuel E. Moskowitz, president of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and senior vice president for MedStar Health.
"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."
Former and current Ravens, along with other NFL luminaries took to social media Saturday to send well wishes.
"Absolutely gutted for Todd Heap and his family," Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt wrote. "Thoughts are with them in this incredibly tough time."
Like the Ravens, the Cardinals also put out a statement of support. It read: "Our hearts go out to Todd, Ashley and the Heap family. It is a grief that is beyond words and one in which no family should ever experience. Hopefully, the prayers, love and support of their incredible group of friends and family provide them comfort that along with their strong faith will lead them through this unspeakably difficult time."