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A year after Odin Lloyd's death, loved ones cling to memories and pain

By Susan Candiotti, CNN
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
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Remembering Odin Lloyd
Remembering Odin Lloyd
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Remembering Odin Lloyd
Remembering Odin Lloyd
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's been one year since Odin Lloyd was killed
  • Aaron Hernandez, charged with murder, pleaded not guilty
  • Lloyd is remembered as a loving, caring guy who loved football
  • "At the end of the day, if we get justice, do we really come out a winner?" friend of Lloyd's asks

(CNN) -- For Ursula Ward, visiting her son's gravesite has become a painful yet inescapable part of her daily routine.

"He touched our lives so much," she said.

A year ago Father's Day would be the last time they spoke.

"See you later," she told him.

Inside the case against Aaron Hernandez

In the early hours of June 17, 2013, Odin Lloyd was gunned down near a pile of construction waste in an industrial park. He was 27.

His body, shot seven times, was found the next afternoon by a jogger.

"My son is saying to me, 'Ma, you know I always love you,' " Ward said at the cemetery near her home in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

"It doesn't feel like it's been a year," Olivia Thibou said of her brother's killing. "It feels like it was yesterday."

Truth be told, she says, when the suspect in your brother's death remains in the headlines, it makes it even harder to heal.

The man whom prosecutors accuse of orchestrating Lloyd's killing, former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, remains jailed while waiting to stand trial with two co-defendants. Hernandez, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz have all pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say there is security video of Lloyd getting into a car with the three men and driving into the industrial park where Lloyd's body was discovered, about a half-mile from Hernandez's North Attleboro home.

Charles Rankin, an attorney for Hernandez, says he is confident his client will be exonerated.

Hernandez pleads not guilty to murders

Hernandez also pleaded not guilty last month to two additional murder charges. Police say he fired a .38-caliber handgun into a car, gunning down two strangers, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, in July 2012 after Abreu accidentally spilled a drink on him.

Charges were brought against Hernandez in the double homicide only after evidence discovered during the Lloyd investigation led police to the now-fallen football star, according to court documents.

They called him 'O'

Unlike de Abreu and Furtado, Lloyd wasn't a stranger to the popular Patriots tight end.

For about a year, "O," as Odin was called, dated a sister of Hernandez's fiancee's.

Lloyd found himself occasionally partying with Hernandez and getting choice seats at Patriots games. For Lloyd, an unpaid semipro player for the Boston Bandits and a football fanatic, it was heaven.

"He was just talking about how (Hernandez) was a cool dude and how they talked football," said Michael Branch, the Bandits' assistant coach.

Yet Lloyd told Branch that the Patriot's lifestyle off the field wasn't what he expected.

"For an NFL guy, he parties a lot," Branch recalled Lloyd saying.

Branch, who also coached Lloyd in high school, described his former player as a "loving, caring, clown, loved to have fun."

"He would light up a room," said Branch, who continued mentoring Lloyd for years as he tried college and worked as a utility company lineman and later as a part-time landscaper.

Lloyd's two closest friends, Darryl Hodge and Daryl Sweet, knew him better than most.

Now, neither will mention Hernandez by name. They say he doesn't deserve to be in the same breath as their friend.

At one time, however, Lloyd's friends got a kick out of him crossing paths with one of the Patriots.

"It was a treat," said Hodge. "It started out like a great treat."

They describe "O" as laid back and quick to laugh, though they say he didn't let a lot of people into his circle.

"He just wanted to focus on what really mattered. Life. Family. He was very family-driven. Always took care of his mom and his sisters," Sweet said.

Hodge and Lloyd became friends in high school. The two and Sweet were Bandits teammates.

Lloyd's two friends spent Father's Day with him. No one could have known it would be the last day of Lloyd's life. One of the last things he and Hodge talked about was making a run at careers they could build on.

"Bro, let's actually do this. Let's just not talk it," Hodge said the friends told one another before parting. "And that was it," he continued. "I'll see you later."

Branch mourns the young man he knew for more than half of his life. He often thinks about what Lloyd overcame.

"Are there gang factions in his neighborhood? Yes, there are. I'm not going to lie to you. Did those involve Odin? No. So for him to beat those odds, and here, he's murdered in North Attleboro, it just doesn't add up to me still," Branch said.

Sweet has yet to delete Lloyd's number from his phone.

"I still text his number until the day somebody texts back and says 'this isn't Odin's number.' Hopefully, that day doesn't come," Sweet said.

'Win, lose, die or draw -- we lose'

Publicly, Lloyd's mother remains silent about the details of her son's death. But she attends every court appearance accompanied by family and friends. Her son's girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins, often sits with her and never with her sister Shayanna, who is Hernandez's fiancee.

Shayanna Jenkins has been charged with lying to a grand jury about the case, and she has pleaded not guilty.

Lloyd's mother prefers to focus on positive memories of her son.

A few weeks before he died, she recalls, he dropped by her beauty school and heard her instructor's praise. "Your mom is one of the best students in this school," Ward remembers her teacher telling Lloyd.

"My son's face lit up, like someone just gave him a million dollars. ... And I can never ever forget that smile. Never."

On Saturday, Lloyd's family is holding a block party not only to thank friends for their support but to raise money for a college scholarship fund in his name, in hopes of allowing someone else to live their dream.

No matter what, Hodge predicts, life will never be the same. "Win, lose, die or draw -- we lose," he said.

"At the end of the day, if we get justice, do we really come out a winner? I don't think so. You don't have that life, that voice, that personality. You don't have that."

CNN's Michelle Rozsa and Laura Dolan contributed to this report.

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