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Church packed as hundreds gather for Odin Lloyd

Members of the Bandits, a semi-professional team that Odin Lloyd played for, raised their hands in unity before the funeral service for the slain Dorchester man.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

Members of the Bandits, a semi-professional team that Odin Lloyd played for, raised their hands in unity before the funeral service for the slain Dorchester man.

Huddled close, the Boston Bandits stood with heads bowed beneath upstretched arms on the street outside the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan, while inside family and friends were taking seats at Saturday morning’s funeral for Odin Lloyd of Dorchester.

But before entering, his teammates first pooled their strength. They broke their huddle, with a firm “1-2-3-Odin!” before filing into the church in a unified sea of blue and yellow football jerseys.

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For men used to subjecting themselves to strenuous workouts and crippling hits, Saturday morning focused on a more difficult challenge: burying one of their own.

“We’re Bandits,” explained Wendell Delk, who wore his blue number 79 jersey. “We all stick together.”

Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body was found June 17 in a North Attleborough industrial park and law enforcement officials have charged Aaron Hernandez, a former New England Patriots star who prosecutors say had been seen with him on video shortly before his death.

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But as the national spotlight falls on the embattled Hernandez, Lloyd has remained the player on the minds of his teammates, family members, and friends.

His friends recalled his broad smile. Teammates said he “always brought his A game.” And his younger sister, in an emotional eulogy, fondly recalled his “stinky feet” and insistence of wearing the same worn pair of athletic flip-flops he had owned since high school.

Throngs of mourners packed the church’s green-cushioned pews, aisles, and small balcony to remember the 27-year-old Lloyd, their grief hanging heavily in the humid summer air.

The church likely seats about 100 comfortably, but church leaders said as many as 275 were inside. Another 150 or so listened intently from a nearby overflow room while more than 100 others stood outside, unable to find seating.

The funeral was closed to journalists, but the uplifting sound of the classic gospel hymn “Highway to Heaven” seeped through the church’s front doors as churchgoers sang during the processional.

Attendees who spoke with the Globe after the service — many wearing purple, Lloyd’s favorite color — described a sad, emotional service in which a well-known, well-liked young man was memorialized far too early.

“I had just saw him on that Saturday and then I find out on Tuesday that he is dead,” said Ron Johnson, one of the Bandits’ coaches. “He did not deserve this. He did nothing to deserve this.”

Lloyd’s death, which the Globe has reported may be linked to an unsolved double homicide last summer in the South End, launched a massive investigation that ended up on Hernandez’s doorstep Wednesday morning, with the former Patriot taken out in handcuffs.

Two other men have since been taken into custody and Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

Across the street from the church Saturday, clusters of people gathered across outside neighborhood convenience stores and a barber shop.

“Who is it for?” shouted a man driving past in a red Toyota.

“That poor boy that they’re saying Hernandez killed,” replied one of the dozen or so Boston Police officers providing security.

The man’s mouth dropped open in surprise as he stopped in front of the church, digesting the fact that he was so close to a funeral that figured in one of the nation’s most high-profile murder cases, unaware of cars now backed up behind him.

But most people leaving the church had little to say about the ex-NFL star’s potential link to their friend’s death. The thoughts of those who did discuss him were represented by a teenager who walked past the church.

“See, this is why I don’t respect these stars,” said the boy, who was wearing a Patriots cap, to his friend. “’Cause they have everything, all the money and clothes and women, and then they go and do something like this.”

Some people leaving the funeral lamented that societal obsession with celebrity has overshadowed the life — and death — of their friend.

“I moved to Boston when I was 13 years old. I was a skinny kid and it was my first time playing organized football,” said Dante Patterson, who played football with Lloyd while the two were students at John D. O’Bryant High School in Roxbury. “And Odin was one of the first people who ever put his arm around me . . . He taught me how to be fearless.”

Those who played football with Lloyd describe him as an intense competitor — a “fireball on the field” — with a memorable smile. The Bandits players vowed to each wear a bracelet with Lloyd’s name on it for the rest of the season, which they’ve dedicated to him.

“We’re going to stay focused and stay strong,” said Mike Branch, who is the Bandits’ general manager and recruited Lloyd to the team, noting that the players chose to go on with a game they had scheduled for Saturday evening. They would play, he said, in Lloyd’s honor.

Branch reiterated that Saturday evening from the sidelines at the game.

“He’d have wanted us to play this game,” he said as the team readied to play in a charity game at Bridgewater State University.

Hoisting Lloyd’s helmet high into the air, the team stood for 53 seconds of silence, in tribute to their teammate’s jersey number.

They bowed their heads as an audio clip of an interview with Lloyd’s sister was played through the loudspeakers. In it, she calls her brother her “protector and provider.”

The Bandits’ show of strength came just hours after the morning service where many of the players, current and former, had struggled to hold their composure.

As the Rev. Zenetta Armstrong urged the mourners to remember Lloyd’s life and not harbor resentment, many of the players broke down in tears and church members passed out tissues.

“It's always hard to see young men cry,” said Sonia Alleyn, a church member for 19 years. “He meant a lot to a lot of people.”

As the service ended, one of the pallbearers, overwhelmed with grief, threw himself across the top of the casket bearing his slain friend, sobbing. Tears raced down his cheeks as another friend, dressed in all purple, lifted him by the arm and helped walk him out to their car.

Filing out together, each Bandit paused at the hearse. As the casket was placed inside, the team gathered in one last, impromptu, huddle — with a powerful chant, serving as a unified eulogy for their fallen #53, soon echoing from the emotional cluster.

“Odin! Odin! Odin! Odin! Odin!”

Globe correspondent Derek J. Anderson contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at Wesley.Lowery@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.

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