MOUNT OLIVE, Miss. (AP) — The shocking news spread first via text and cell phone messages on the Fourth of July holiday.

It was almost too strange and terrible to believe.

Former NFL star Steve McNair had been shot to death. Air McNair, the seemingly indestructible quarterback who had played through all sorts of injuries and pain. The happily married man, a father of four who was smart enough to walk away from the NFL in 2008 while he still could.

Then came uglier news.

He had been killed by a woman he had been dating — one 16 years his junior — who then turned the gun on herself. A week after it happened, as McNair was laid to rest Saturday, friends, relatives and fans still struggle to understand the relationship between young waitress Sahel Kazemi and the former Pro Bowler.

Gloria Allen taught English to McNair in high school here, and chooses to remember a respectful young man who always did his best.

“One mistake doesn’t define a life,” she said.

It certainly doesn’t change what McNair did on the field or his charitable work, which was substantial. What investigators and interviews have revealed does point, however, to a mistake that had disastrous consequences.

McNair noticed Kazemi at the Dave and Buster’s restaurant a few months ago and apparently pursued her. Then 19, the waitress was slender but curvy, with long black hair and an olive complexion. Kazemi was so striking two other customers had their photo taken with her within the past month.

The former quarterback was a charismatic figure with virtually everyone he met, but especially to a young woman who dropped out of high school in Florida and moved to Nashville with a boyfriend when she was 17. She often worked up to three jobs to support herself. With McNair, she traveled to Las Vegas, Florida, California and even his home state of Mississippi.

In photos posted on that apparently show the two parasailing, McNair is smiling as he gazes at Kazemi. She introduced him to her family in May at her 20th birthday and told friends and relatives he was divorcing his wife to marry her.

But Kazemi was the one paying for her Kia and a 2007 Escalade, even though McNair was co-registered on the Cadillac. Her roommate had moved out, leaving her with doubled rent. She told a customer in the middle of June that McNair didn’t seem like he wanted to be with her anymore, and police said she even followed another woman she suspected of being involved with McNair.

Then came Kazemi’s arrest on suspicion of DUI around 1:30 a.m. July 2.

McNair was a passenger in the Escalade that morning. He wasn’t charged, left the scene in a cab and can be seen in police video walking behind the vehicle. He had been arrested for drunk driving himself twice before — including in 2003 by the same officer who had pulled over Kazemi.

McNair bailed Kazemi out. Hours later, she bought a 9mm semiautomatic pistol in the parking lot during a break from work.

The former quarterback spent most of July 3 fishing with his sons and was alone at a restaurant before he arrived at a condo he shared with a friend sometime around 2 a.m. Soon after, he was dead.

Some who knew McNair still don’t think Kazemi killed him. A slight young woman? No way she could have stopped a man massive defenders couldn’t slow.

Authorities, however, believe McNair was asleep when Kazemi put the pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. She put two more slugs into his chest and a fourth bullet into the other side of his head before shooting herself. She was laid to rest Friday, in a private family ceremony in Florida.

Capt. Robert Bradley of the Mississippi Highway Patrol knew McNair since the quarterback played at Alcorn State. He volunteered after work to help with traffic Friday night at a visitation in McNair’s hometown. To him, McNair’s biggest weakness was being too kind, something that he said Kazemi took advantage of.

“He was just an angel,” Bradley said.

That is why thousands turned out in Tennessee and in Mississippi to pay their respects to McNair.

On Saturday, approximately 5,000 turned out at Reed Green Coliseum on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg for his funeral. A private burial followed 30 miles away here in his hometown.

The focus here has been trying to help some of the people most hurt by the tragedy, his wife and four children.

Baltimore receiver Derrick Mason, also a teammate in Tennessee, told McNair’s sons he will be there for them. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Titans quarterback Vince Young, so close to McNair he called him “Pops,” said at the funeral they are only a phone call away.

The work of McNair’s foundation should continue even if only a few of the thousands who turned out to mourn the man this week followed the family’s request and made donations to it.

Bishop Joseph W. Walker III said Mechelle McNair — a trained nurse and Steve’s college sweetheart — has an incredible contribution still left to make. She hasn’t made a public comment since her husband’s death, and the family kept photographers from taking pictures of her or her sons to provide some privacy.

“I want people to understand she’s not an airhead,” Walker said. “This is an incredible woman who stood by her husband. She’s in shock as anyone could be. She was taken aback, but she’ll get through it.”

The Titans, an organization still grieving as well, likely will commemorate McNair in some fashion this season. McNair already is in the team’s Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor.

“Now we all need time to heal,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

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