Just after dawn on Feb. 13, Alexander Bradley was driven to an industrial park outside Riviera Beach, shot once in the head and left to die.
A man, who had just arrived at work, heard a gunshot and spotted an SUV driving away. Minutes later, he found Bradley curled up in a fetal position, who told him to call 911.
“Tell them to hurry,” Bradley said. “I’m gonna bleed out.”
Four months later, in a suburb of Boston, Odin Lloyd was driven to an industrial park, shot several times and left to die.
Bradley lost his right eye but lived. Lloyd died.
Now, court documents accuse the same man in both shootings: NFL star and former Florida Gators great Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested on murder charges last week in Lloyd’s killing.
And, The Palm Beach Post has learned that authorities investigating Lloyd’s slaying visited a hardware store in Belle Glade on Wednesday asking about the purchases of two guns linked to Hernandez.
Hernandez, 23, who last summer signed a $40 million contract with the New England Patriots that delivered a $12.5 million bonus, has NFL friends who grew up in the Glades. Several Glades area residents told The Post that Hernandez visits there occasionally.
‘A little vacation’
In February, Bradley flew into Palm Beach International Airport from Connecticut with Hernandez and two other men, whom he didn’t know, David Jaroslawicz, one of Bradley’s lawyers, said last week. He said Bradley and Hernandez were friends.
“They went for a little vacation,” he said. “They like Worth Avenue.”
They drove to Tootsie’s Cabaret, a strip club in Miami Gardens, where Hernandez and Bradley got into an argument. The dispute continued as they left the club and drove north toward Palm Beach. Jaroslawicz said he didn’t know what the argument was about. He said they were staying in Palm Beach County but didn’t know where.
Elizabeth Eilender, Bradley’s other lawyer, said she didn’t know why the vehicle stopped outside Riviera Beach, in the industrial area near Interstate 95 and Blue Heron Boulevard.
Swift release from team
Hernandez, in the past week, has fallen far from the heights of the NFL, where he was considered one of its top tight ends. His signing bonus was the highest at his position, according to the Boston Globe.
His arrest was a deal-breaker. The Patriots cut him right after his arrest. He now faces life in prison if convicted of orchestrating Lloyd’s execution-style killing at the park near Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough, Mass. He has pleaded not guilty.
Two other men were arrested last week in connection with Lloyd’s slaying, including Ernest Wallace, who turned himself in to police in Miramar on Friday.
Reports say Hernandez is being investigated in two other killings during a 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston.
Trouble in Gainesville
Back in Florida, amid his glory days with the Gators, Hernandez saw trouble nearly from the moment he set foot on the University of Florida campus in 2007.
After the Gators lost to Auburn in 2007, he and three other players were questioned in the drive-by shooting of two men in Gainesville, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Gainesville police did not return calls seeking comment for this story. The Post reached the family of Corey Smith, who was 28 when he was shot in the head. Smith’s aunt declined comment on behalf of the family, on their lawyer’s recommendation.
Hernandez failed multiple drug tests, according to reports. In 2010, he slid to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft amid concerns from team scouts that his associates in his native Bristol, Conn., had gang ties, according to Sports Illustrated.
Bleeding man staggers
The “pop!” sounded like a gunshot.
An employee of the John Deere store saw a dark-colored sport-utility vehicle speed away. But when the employee and his boss scoured the alley behind the store off Garden Road north of Blue Heron Boulevard, they found nothing.
Must have been a vehicle backfiring, they thought.
Minutes later, the employee saw a man stagger and fall in the back-alley parking lot next door. He was bleeding profusely.
When police and paramedics asked Bradley who shot him, Bradley said he didn’t know.
Then a doctor at St. Mary’s Medical Center asked him whether he shot himself.
“Absolutely not,” Bradley replied, according to police reports.
Sheriff’s case still closed
Comparing the shooting to the one that took Lloyd’s life in Massachusetts, Bradley’s lawyer, Eilender, can’t help but conclude that they are “chillingly similar.”
Bradley opened up publicly two weeks ago in a federal lawsuit that claims Hernandez shot him that morning. The suit was filed two days after Lloyd was found dead but before Hernandez’s arrest.
Despite that, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said last week that detectives would not reopen the investigation unless Bradley cooperates.
The lawyers also said their client doesn’t know who was in the car with him, besides Hernandez. They hadn’t asked their client Friday whether the other two people were the two suspects arrested last week in connection with Lloyd’s killing.
Bradley, 31, from East Hartford, Conn., is a convicted felon who spent 18 months in prison for a cocaine distribution conviction in 2006. He was arrested on a felony burglary charge just two months after the February shooting.
Questions surround why Bradley refused to cooperate. Jaroslawicz said his client did cooperate but did not explain how. But besides, he said, police now have a federal complaint claiming that Hernandez shot Bradley. They can reopen the case, he said.
“I don’t know what else they would need,” he said.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Eric Davis said that’s not good enough. They need a victim for a case to succeed at trial.
“Paper can’t do it,” Davis said. “He’s (Bradley’s) going to have to take the stand and say, ‘This guy did this.’ ”
Chuck Drago, a former Oviedo police chief, said police have an obligation to investigate to the fullest extent crimes in which a victim doesn’t cooperate. Then reality sets in.
“If the victim won’t give you a statement, it makes it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute,” Drago said.
Guns linked to Hernandez
Massachusetts prosecutors accuse Hernandez of Lloyd’s execution-style killing after Lloyd talked to the wrong people at a nightclub. Hernandez and two other men picked up Lloyd at his home about 2:30 a.m. and drove around in a rented car. As they discussed what happened at the club, Lloyd became nervous, prosecutors say.
Lloyd texted his sister, “Did you see who I am with?” When she asked who, he answered, at 3:22 a.m., “NFL,” then, a minute later, he sent one final text: “Just so you know.”
Prosecutors say Hernandez drove him to the industrial park and shot him five times, including two shots to chest at close range.
The murder weapon has not been found, but prosecutors Wednesday told a judge that they found one weapon — a Jennings .22-caliber pistol — cast off on the side of the road about one-quarter mile from Hernandez’s home.
He said that gun was traced back to the same Florida store as one found by police after a May 18 altercation outside a bar in Providence, R.I.
Bristol County, Mass., prosecutor Bill McCauley told the judge that Hernandez was involved in the altercation, during which a black man in dreadlocks placed a gun under a car. A man matching that description was seen with Hernandez the night of Lloyd’s murder, the prosecutor said.
One law-enforcement source told The Post the guns were believed to have been sold at the True Value store in Belle Glade, which sells handguns, rifles and shotguns.
A store manager told The Post that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were there Wednesday performing a trace — likely looking through the store’s records for who bought the guns. Retailers are required to keep gun sales records.
But the manager didn’t know what the agents were looking for and declined further comment.
Uphill battle in suit
Jaroslawicz said his client’s civil suit has taken a turn for the worse with Hernandez’s arrest.
Hernandez won’t be collecting a paycheck from football anytime soon, and what money Hernandez does have likely will be spent on his criminal defense, he said.
And now that Hernandez is tied up in a criminal case, he likely won’t have any time to be deposed for Jaroslawicz’s lawsuit.
“What was a straightforward case is now a morass,” Jaroslawicz said.
Staff writers Jeff Greer and Hal Habib and staff researchers Niels Heimeriks and Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.