September 6, 2002

Rankin Inlet hockey player found dead in Manitoba

Terence Tootoo commits suicide after drunk driving arrest


Terence Tootoo was signed in July to the Roanoke Express in Roanoke, Virginia. "He was
a role model," said Express coach Perry Florio.

(PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE EXPRESS (CENTRE) AND THE NATIONAL POST)

PATRICIA D’SOUZA

Rising hockey star Terence Tootoo was found dead last Thursday in the bushes behind the house in Brandon, Manitoba where he was staying with his brother Jordin.

He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said. RCMP officers found a 12-gauge shotgun by his side. He was 22.

Terence was signed in late July by the Roanoke Express of the East Coast Hockey League in Roanoke, Virginia.

The team’s Web site described him as the first Inuk to play professional hockey.

He went to Virginia last fall from the Opask Awayic Cree Nation (OCN) Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He played four seasons with the Blizzard, winning three championship rings. In his final two years, he was the team captain.

According to the Winnipeg Sun, his sweat-stained Blizzard jersey sold at an auction in 2000 for $10,000.

He had returned to Manitoba this summer to train with his brother, who plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and take part in the Canadian junior team’s summer evaluation camp this month.

 

"He was a role model," said Express coach and general manager Perry Florio in an interview. "I loved him."

Florio spotted Terence’s potential and his passion for the game in October 2001. He completed the season as centre for the Express and quickly became a fan favourite.

"He was a big deal in Roanoke. People are sorely going to miss him."

 

Florio spoke with Jordin last week. "He’s in a terrible state," the coach said.

He also spoke briefly with the boys’ mother, Rose Tootoo. "That was very difficult," he said. "We cried together. She thanked me for helping him grow up. I thanked her for sending us such a nice boy."

"He was gone when we got there"

Last Tuesday evening, Terence and Jordin went out for dinner and drinks. According to the Roanoke Times, Jordin stayed with a friend that night. Terence drove back to their host family’s house in his red SUV.

Before he arrived at the house, Terence was stopped by Brandon city police and later charged with impaired driving. His truck was impounded and he was released on a notice to appear.

Police dropped him off at the house, the Times said.

But Wednesday morning, Terence didn’t show up for a scheduled work-out with his brother. Jordin reported him missing.

At 1 p.m. the next day, RCMP were investigating the missing-person report when police dogs found Terence’s lifeless body in the bush behind the host family’s house.

"He was gone when we got there," said an RCMP officer who asked not to be identified.

Another member of the search team went to notify Jordin and his host family. "I was still in the bush and I could hear the screams from there," the officer said. "They took it pretty hard."

Terence left a note for his brother, the officer confirmed. It said: "Do well Jor. Go all the way. Take care of the family. You are the man. Ter."

"People make mistakes all the time"

"Knowing Terence and how proud he was of his heritage, and knowing how proud people in his town and our town were of him, maybe he felt he let them down," Florio said.

"But that was not the case. People make mistakes all the time," the coach added.

Richard Wills of Buchanan, Virginia, formed a bond with Terence while driving the team bus.

"He was like a spark plug. He could charge anybody up," Wills said.

"He was one of the family. He had Christmas dinner here." Last December, Wills offered his home to any player who didn’t have family close by.

"Toots took me up on it. He was here at my home because he didn’t have enough time to get back to his home," he said.

"He was like the son I didn’t have. My wife and two daughters feel as though we’ve lost a part of our family."

Wills will probably never understand what drove Terence to take his own life. "His reasoning he took with him. Nobody will ever know."

One fan posted a message on the Hockeytown Centre electronic bulletin board: "Here in Virginia we feel we have lost a son. He would come out every night after a game and talk with us and sign for the kids," it said.

"We are just so blessed to have gotten to know him and love him even if for a short time. He was only in Virginia for one season but his personality and kindness has had an impact on everyone who met him or watched him play."

A funeral service was held Sunday in Brandon. Memorial services took place in Rankin Inlet and Roanoke on Wednesday.

Express players plan to honour their teammate by wearing a red heart on their jerseys with the number 22 on it. Jordin wore the same number for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

In lieu of flowers, the Tootoo family requests that donations be made to the Rankin Inlet Youth Drop-in Centre.