Long before he vanished from the Texas plains, Patrick Dennehy defied easy explanation. Was the promising Baylor basketball player brooding or gregarious? A devoted teammate or a locker room instigator? It depended on the day. The biracial Dennehy was a rare mix indeed, a born-again Christian who revered the slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur. He was just as comfortable reading the Bible as he was reading Tupac's poetry collection, A Rose That Grew from Concrete.
By Monday, as a police search for Dennehy moved beyond its third week, producing no body and no arrests, friends and loved ones feared he had met the same tragic fate that befell Tupac nearly seven years ago. What stunned them further was that police had named Carlton Dotson, 21, Dennehy's roommate and former teammate, a "person of interest" in a case that investigators were treating as a potential homicide.
In a police affidavit an unnamed informant alleged that Dotson told a cousin he had shot Dennehy in the head. As Dotson's lawyer dismissed that claim, reports circulated that Dotson and Dennehy had bought guns together last month. Friends of Dennehy said he and Dotson armed themselves because they'd been threatened by another Baylor player, Harvey Thomas.
Sitting in his office in Waco last Wednesday, Bears coach Dave Bliss called the disappearance "a bad dream. If you lose a basketball game, you can go fix the offense or the defense," Bliss said. "This is just a helpless feeling."
Bliss arrived at Baylor four years ago to revive its moribund hoops program, which was still reeling from an academic scandal and had gone 0-16 in conference play. In his second season the 59-year-old coach led the Bears to a 19-12 record thanks in part to a roster with four transfers. Bliss was expecting similar results next fall with the additions of Dennehy and Thomas, a 6'8" forward and former top 30 national high school prospect whose itinerant history includes stops at five high schools and four colleges.
Dennehy, a 6'10", 230-pound junior from Santa Clara, Calif., began his college career at New Mexico, where he was voted honorable mention All-Mountain West as a sophomore in 2001-02. But he never felt entirely comfortable in at the school, friends said. In February 2002 he argued with a teammate during a loss at Air Force and stormed off the court. Two months later he was kicked off the team after leaving a workout Upon transferring to Baylor, though, Dennehy embraced religion, hosted prospective recruits (Thomas was one of the players he helped land) and called his move a "fresh start" on a track he hoped would lead to the NBA.
Whipsawed by an investigation that had yielded more questions than answers, Bliss nevertheless prepared to hit the recruiting trail in Teaneck, N.J., for this week's Adidas ABCD Camp. "There's no road map out of this jam," a red-eyed Bliss said last Thursday. "When I walk into Teaneck or any other place, I know there are people who know what happened. But I'm going to go out and work hard to represent Baylor."
Meanwhile, Dennehy's loved ones waited and worried. In Albuquerque his longtime girlfriend, Jessica De La Rosa, logged onto the Tiffany website and stared at the modest Elsa Peretti engagement ring she had registered on her wish list. In Carson City, Nev., Dennehy's family—mother Valorie Brabazon, stepfather Brian Brabazon and 14-year-old half sister Wynn—clung resolutely to the present tense. "As long as Patrick hasn't been found, he's alive," Brian said. And in Tacoma, Wash., Patrick Dennehy, the missing player's father, lamented a sad coincidence: Shawn Dennehy, Patrick's older half brother, was 19 when he died in a car accident on June 15, 1997, nearly six years to the day before Patrick was last seen alive.
As the case turned cold and hopes for Dennehy's safe return dimmed, it was hard not to think of his well-worn copy of Tupac's A Rose That Grew from Concrete and the haunting lines of a man who predicts he will the before his time. "I have come to grips with the possibility/And wiped the last tear from my eyes," Shakur wrote before his 1997 murder.
The poem, which Dennehy had read many times, was called "In the Event of My Demise."