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Hernandez's neighbors still in shock over events on quiet street

Photo: Reuters

Hundreds of media swarmed outside Aaron Hernandez's house in normally quiet North Attleboro, Mass., last month.

Last month, Paul Mangili woke up in his Hong Kong hotel room, turned on the TV, and saw his Massachusetts house on his screen. It is a dream house. It was in a dream neighborhood.

"It's hard to explain how it changed," Mangili says now. "It's almost like all the innocence is gone. To us, it was the quietest street in America."

Mangili lives across the street from a young millionaire named Aaron Hernandez. He lives a short walk from the industrial park where Hernandez is accused of murdering a man named Odin Lloyd. He lives near the pond that authorities searched, on the street that dozens of reporters know too well.

You've seen it, haven't you? Hernandez's neighborhood, in North Attleboro, Mass., is a canvas of American aspirations. There are million-dollar homes, side by side, with big yards and living rooms and multi-car garages and finished basements, and it all looks so ... safe. This is one reason people move to a neighborhood like that. It's a safe place to raise a family.

Imagine waking up one day and hearing that the guy across the street is Tony Soprano.

Every murder is spine-chilling, but the accusations against Hernanandez are especially so. He is accused of executing Lloyd. He has been accused in a civil suit of shooting another acquaintance in the face this winter. And according to various reports, he is being investigated for a double-homicide last summer.

Hernandez has been painted as a stone-hearted killer; cross him once, and he will shoot you in the head. We don't know if that is accurate. But imagine how you would feel if you were Paul Mangili, and not long ago, your son came home and said:

"I saw Mr. Hernandez. He got ice cream with me."

Says Paul now: "I was like, 'Oh, that's really nice.'"

When Hernandez moved in last fall, he had the only thing he needed: money. He bought his house for $1.3 million from another former Patriot, Ty Warren.

"A great value for the home," says the realtor who sold the house, Kenneth Farrow.

Warren did absolutely nothing wrong, obviously, but he probably feels a little sick about inadvertently bringing an accused murderer into his community. Mangili says the Warrens are "the most phenomenal family you could ever meet. His girls would come play with my son. Just great, great people. If you ever needed anything, they were right there. I never looked at him like 'Oh, he's a football player!' He was my neighbor."

Hernandez mostly kept to himself. Farrow says he doesn't even think Hernandez looked at the house before he bought it: "I think his fiancee was happy with it and she wanted to move on with it."

Neighbors saw Hernandez move in. They saw the truck parked outside his house when he had a surveillance system put in. Even though he was an NFL star, this all seemed normal, because Patriots and anonymous New Englanders have mixed in North Attleboro for many years. Former linebacker Adalius Thomas has lived there. One Halloween, neighborhood kids knocked on a door and found receiver Wes Welker, dressed up like a chainsaw killer. This was funnier then than it is now.

When people talk about Hernandez's neighborhood, they usually mean Bristol, Conn., where Hernandez grew up. Many of his best friends are from there. It is where he learned to play football, and where he learned how to get in trouble repeatedly.

But it is not where Hernandez is accused of murdering Odin Lloyd. That is North Attleboro, on the Rhode Island border, not far from Gillette Stadium. It was the kind of place that a man like Aaron Hernandez dreams of living, with the kind of people who never dream of living near Aaron Hernandez.

This summer, it quickly became a land of satellite TV trucks and reporters camped out, and of girls inexplicably yelling "We love you, Aaron!" outside the home of an accused murderer.

Hernandez -- no longer a Patriot, and currently in jail -- is unlikely to move back into his new neighborhood. But the odor lingers. The neighborhood will be the backdrop for one of the most-watched murder trials of the year.

There are a lot of questions that still have to be answered, including some we haven't even considered. Like this: Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, told police she and Hernandez installed their surveillance system because "there had been several recent break-in attempts at their residence." Several break-in attempts? Really? There? The couple only lived there a few months. This is the kind of neighborhood where people sleep with their doors unlocked without worrying. At least, it was.

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