Editor's Note: This story was updated after Hernandez was found guilty of murder on April 15, 2015.
When they responded to her 911 call on that June evening in 2010, the Bristol police found Aaron Hernandez’s mother bleeding and trembling.
“I immediately noticed she had a large laceration on her right cheek, and she was holding a napkin to her left wrist,” the subsequent police report stated. “The napkin was filled with blood.”
Police found the man she had married after the death of Aaron’s father in their backyard and a bent knife in the kitchen sink. Jeffrey Cummings was subsequently convicted of slashing her, adding to a criminal record that included drugs and a prior domestic-violence incident in which he stepped on a 4-year-old and threw a 10-year-old child against a wall while physically assaulting an ex-girlfriend and another woman.
Cummings was in prison on a two-year sentence when Terri Hernandez was granted a divorce. The papers on file in Superior Court in New Britain note that the couple was married in Las Vegas on January 16, 2009, three years and 10 days after she became a widow. The marriage was around the time Terri told a reporter from USA Today that her younger son, Aaron, seemed to be finally getting over his fury at the untimely death of his father.
The father, Dennis Hernandez, was a former high-school football star known as “the King” who was 49 when he suffered a fatal infection following routine surgery for a hernia. Aaron was just 16 and particularly close to his dad.
“It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry,” Terri recalled to USA Today. “He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”
But by 2009, Aaron seemed to her to be regaining his equilibrium.
“He’s my Aaron again,” Terri Hernandez told the paper. “Just now everything’s getting better, and it took him three years. I thought I lost him for good. He wasn’t the same kid. Now he’s back, the same fun-loving Aaron.”
Aaron had left the house to become a football star at the University of Florida. He may not have realized immediately that if things seemed to be getting easier for him, they were getting harder for his mother.
Terri had been married to a town hero still honored with a memorial at his high school and an annual scholarship golf outing in his name. She was now wed to an ex-con whose criminal record grew that year to include an assault involving a police officer. He was convicted on August 27, 2009, and placed on probation for 18 months.
The anger he had felt at his father’s death likely resurfaced with exponentially greater fury at the thought of how his mother had been treated.
Somehow, Cummings remained at liberty even though court records show he flunked 19 drugs tests between September 22, 2009, and June 7, 2010, positive 13 times for marijuana and six times for cocaine. He also failed to complete a court-mandated anger-management program.
On the evening of June 29, 2010, police were dispatched to the house that Hernandez and Cummings shared on Greystone Avenue in Bristol.
“Bristol Dispatch informed us that the complainant, Terri Hernandez, had been attacked with a knife by her husband, Jeffrey Cummings,” Police Officer Timothy Russell subsequently wrote in his report.
Terri had fled to a neighbor’s house, where the responding officers found her bleeding from multiple wounds. She was shaking as she told them that she had gotten into a verbal argument with her husband at 7 p.m. “because he had been drinking.” She had turned away from him and was starting toward the bathroom when he came up from behind.
At 5 feet 10 inches and 200 pounds, Cummings would have been no match for Aaron. But he was big enough to bully Aaron’s mom. He had shoved her, causing her to get a “rug burn” on her knee.
“Terri stated that she got up and asked him, ‘What did I do? Why did you do that?’” the police report reads. “She stated she was surprised. She walked into the living room and sat on the chair crying because she was upset.”
Cummings had gone into the kitchen.
“When he came back into the living room, he was holding a large kitchen knife with a blade approximately eight inches long,” the report continues. “Jeffrey walked over to her and put the knife up to her throat. She asked him what he was doing, but he did not say anything.”
The report notes Terri was “scared for her life.” The report goes on, “Jeffrey then started to stab a stand-up fan with the knife. He stabbed the fan so many times that he put a stab mark and a hole into one of the fan blades.”
The terror had only just begun.
“He came back over to Terri with the knife and started to jab the knife into the chair she was sitting on,” the officer’s report reads. “Terri told me that at that time she started to bleed from her face.”
Cummings began whirling around with the blade, smashing a lamp.
“While he was hitting objects with the knife, he was saying something to the effect of ‘I don’t care if I go back to prison,’” the report says.
Terri chose the moment to dash into the kitchen and flee out a side door to the neighbor’s house, where she called 911. The responding police saw that along with a 3 1/2-inch wound on her right cheek, she had wounds to her left wrist and right shoulder.
“She told me she was scared and did not want [Cummings] back in her house,” Russell notes. “She told me she thinks he will be even more upset since she called the police.”
When the police approached Cummings in the backyard, they ordered him to put his hands in the air. He ignored them and began to walk away. He was soon in handcuffs.
“He stated ‘I did not do anything,’” the report says.
Now able to return to her house, Terri showed the police the stab hole in the fan. The police recovered the knife from the kitchen sink.
“When I asked Terri why the blade was bent, she stated that when Jeffrey was stabbing the knife into the chair, the knife must have bent,” Russell adds.
Cummings was convicted of assault and sentenced on October 15, 2010, to two years in prison, followed by three years’ probation carrying a condition that was handwritten on the case file.
“No threats or assaults to victim Terri Hernandez.”
On December 9, 2010,Terri divorced Cummings, whose address in the court papers is given as “Inmate #159574” at the correctional facility in Enfield, Connecticut. She got the house as well as the Bristol town pension she was earning as a secretary at an elementary school.
Earlier in the same month his mother was stabbed, Aaron had signed a four-year contract with the New England Patriots, despite having failed a drug test in college just as his mother’s new husband had at the probation office. Numerous newspaper profiles of the Patriots’ new star noted that he had several of his father’s favorite sayings tattooed on his arms, foremost among them, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Aaron may not have been aware of the full extent of his mother’s difficulties, but he almost certainly learned about the slashing and the prison sentence and the divorce. The anger he had felt at his father’s death likely resurfaced with even greater fury at the thought of how his mother had been treated.
Perhaps it is not just a coincidence that Hernandez had just been to his first Father’s Day dinner—an event no doubt mixed with joy over his new daughter and continued grief of his departed dad—when he went to pick up semipro football player Odin Lloyd. The ill-fated Lloyd reportedly had angered Aaron by chatting at a nightclub with people he did not like. A hothead who believes life itself has betrayed him is liable to take even minor perceived disloyalty as treason.
Aaron is now convicted of murdering Lloyd. He is also a suspect in a double murder outside a Boston nightclub in 2012. A Florida man has alleged in a civil suit that Aaron shot him in the face following a dispute at a Miami strip club in February of this year.
Cummings is now 47 and back out of prison, but he remains on probation. He was not available for comment. Nor was 54-year-old Terri, nor her divorce attorney. Terri has said she is certain Aaron will be cleared of the murder charges, and she must know she would not be helping his case if she discussed matters that could have fired his sometimes all eclipsing anger.
Every Bristol high-school home football game is played at Muzzy Field, built a century ago on land donated by dry goods merchant Adrian Muzzy in memory of his two sons, who died in infancy. Had his boys survived, the benefactor would no doubt have loved to have beheld a sight such as Dennis Hernandez witnessed in the fall of 2003.
On the very first play of the first set of downs of freshman Aaron Hernandez’s first game with the Bristol Central High School football team, he broke free of a defender and burst into the clear. His older brother, star quarterback D.J. Hernandez, threw the first pass of the season.
The father cheered from the stands, tears in his eyes. Terri would later say that he liked nothing better than watching his boys play sports. And this was a moment right out of some storybook.
Then the page turned.