MOSCOW, Idaho – More than 400 people packed into a University of Idaho theater Wednesday night to mourn the loss of UI football player Eric McMillan, who died after being shot at his apartment early Sunday evening.
Telling stories of sideline and locker room friendships, teammates of the 19-year-old from Murietta, Calif., stood below the stage where the starting cornerback’s jersey, pads, cleats and gloves were displayed on a table. They described a man who gave them love, strength and laughter.
The service was held in part for McMillan’s teammates and friends but also for his family. His twin sister Erica, who was about a minute older, had come from California and his uncle, John Ligon, flew in from Florida. They came to meet with police and university officials and to recover McMillan’s body and belongings.
Through their visit came a clearer picture of McMillan, the first in his Alabama-based extended family to attend a four-year college. His uncle, speaking on behalf of the family earlier Tuesday afternoon, said that McMillan was a motivated, dedicated student and teammate. Ligon, a former Marine, was McMillan’s legal guardian through high school, chosen by the family to be a father figure.
“I got a letter from Eric about a week and a half ago,” he said. In it, the sophomore asked his uncle to come to Idaho for Dad’s weekend. When McMillan decided to attend UI, Ligon had promised to come watch him play.
“Eric lived for football,” said his uncle. “I’ve seen the potential in Eric years ago. We wanted to give him the opportunity to progress.”
On Wednesday night, Ligon gave the tearful students around him a few words of advice.
“Regardless how old we are, young and old, we don’t know when our time is near,” he said, with a half smile on his face. “You guys have got to stick together and enjoy each other and work together … live today like it’s your last one.”
UI assistant coach Alundis Brice said this has been the longest week of his life. “I know how Eric felt on the day he got shot. I know how he felt on the operating table,” Brice said, explaining – without giving details – that he, too, had once been shot.
“I survived it and he didn’t,” Brice continued. “All week I’ve been wondering why.”
Simeon Stewart, a teammate who lived in the same apartment building, said McMillan was part of every day of Stewart’s life at the university.
“We were always the last two out of the locker room,” he said. “He was always on my right side in the huddle.” McMillan would borrow his car and not put gas in it and borrow his clothes, but not bring them back, Stewart said through the laughter. “I’m going to miss him.”
Another teammate described the sight of McMillan letting himself in through a sliding door and forgetting to close it. He laughed as he described their arguments about letting in the flies. “I just wish I could see him one more day so I can tell him I love him,” he said.
The men, many of whom trained most closely with McMillan, were clear that he was not a violent or angry person. He was the one who stepped in to break up fights. Some said they feel hate about his death, for which police have not determined a motive, but have arrested two men.
“Down in my heart, I feel like it was my fault,” one friend said to McMillan’s family, without elaborating.
Erica McMillan urged the students to draw strength from the difficult time.
“Get beat down – cause you will get beat down,” she told them. “Then get back up and look up and say, ‘Thank you.’ “
“You are all going to learn from that,” she said, “and you will come out stronger.”