Mike Alberghini slumped against a wall at Grant High School on Monday, exhausted, dazed, still disbelieving.
He exhaled, then wiped away tears.
A short time earlier, the Grant football head coach had been told by police and then informed his team of the news. A popular assistant coach, Edward K. Coleman, 38, was dead, apparently having shot his longtime girlfriend Luv C. Land, 28, in their North Natomas home before turning the gun on himself in what Sacramento police say they believe was a murder-suicide.
Police found a firearm near the bodies on Sunday morning. A timeline of when the deaths occurred has not been released, Sacramento police spokeswoman Officer Michele Gigante said.
In his 44 years as a school administrator and coach, Alberghini said, he had no comparable experience from which to draw guidance to reconcile the apparently violent act of a coach who was so beloved by so many for the time he devoted to helping others. So instead of words, Alberghini said he mostly shared tears with his players.
Land's mother, Tamra McIntosh, expressed equal shock Monday. "We're devastated," she said. "We didn't see this coming. We'll never know what really happened."
Alberghini said the deaths have torn apart "so many families." The coach said he now shoulders the burden of keeping a grieving team and its school community together.
In Del Paso Heights, the community identity and morale often run parallel to the fortunes of the football team. Grant was off to an uncharacteristic 1-3 start this fall. Players said they were looking to their coaches for answers and guidance, Coleman included.
"Toughest day of my career," said Alberghini, a teacher and coach in the district since 1968 and the head football coach since 1991. "A tragic loss. I cried like hell when I told the team. We're feeling a great loss right now. Ed was one of the dearest people I've ever known, and these kids loved him."
So did Land, according to her family.
McIntosh said her daughter met Coleman three years ago. Those who knew Coleman and Land said they were happy together and had plans to marry next year.
"She knew (Coleman) was the one," McIntosh said of her only child. "She had this list, and he fit all her criteria."
Land attended Grant football games and enjoyed hearing stories of Coleman's playing days with the Pacers in the early 1990s. After graduating from the University of Idaho, Coleman returned to Grant to coach football and track, a role he held the last nine years.
He was a special education aide at Rio Linda High School, where he was honored for excellence last year by the district. He was taking night classes to earn his teaching credential with the goal of teaching at his alma mater.
"I always wanted to come back to Grant because of what this school meant to me, and because it's home," Coleman told The Bee last month. "I was just like a lot of these kids I coach: I had dreams to be something important in this community."
Land, a Foothill High School and American River College graduate, also had dreams. Her mother said she wanted to earn a Ph.D. Land worked as a safety coordinator at Campbell Soup Co. in Dixon and traveled to Campbell's facilities throughout the country to perform safety audits.
McIntosh said the first indication she had of any problems between Land and Coleman was Friday night. The two had argued at a wedding they attended.
Grant football players and coaches said they became alarmed when they did not hear on Saturday from Coleman, known by his friends and athletes as "Easy Ed" for his jovial demeanor.
"It's not like Ed to not be in touch," said Grant assistant coach Carl Reed. "It's like having a brother, and when you don't hear from him, you worry, and then when you lose him, you're crushed."
Grant senior quarterback Isaiah Rios said he sensed something was wrong when he couldn't reach Coleman by phone over the weekend. Rios said Coleman was instrumental in helping him remain academically eligible, with words of encouragement.
"We talked about everything â" girls, college, football," Rios wrote in an email. "Every time I threw a bad pass, he told me: 'It's OK. Nobody's perfect.' He'll always be in my life."
Grant administrators and a chaplain were on the Grant campus Monday to help grieving students.
"We are a family, and we have to get through these times," Grant principal Craig Murray said. "We want our kids to know we are there for them."
At 3B's barbershop a block from the Grant campus, customers generally come in for a trim and to talk about the Pacers football team. On Monday, business was slow. The only ones in the two 1950s-era swivel chairs were the barbers, shaking their heads at the news.
"We can speak for the community when we say we're just numb at what's happened," said Shannon Daniel, a 1987 Grant graduate who has known Coleman since his youth. "Just tears this town apart."
Said Sam Kinsey, owner of 3B's: "This really, really, really hits close to home. We're a family in this community, with football a big part of who we are. To lose two good young people like this, it just doesn't make sense. We all feel it."
On Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD. Bee staff writers Melody Gutierrez and Cathy Locke contributed to this report.
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