PHOENIX — The ABC15 Investigators have learned a man fatally shot by Phoenix police last month was a former professional football player receiving treatment for a mental health condition.
Ekom Udofia was killed on November 30. Police say the 33-year-old was armed with a realistic-looking BB gun when they found him in-and-out of traffic near 23rd Avenue and Indian School Road.
"I don’t know what happened, and I can’t place myself there," said longtime friend David Uffens. "I only know that we lost a tremendous person, somebody that everybody I know cared about deeply."
Udofia was an All-American at Chaparral High School before playing at Stanford University. The defensive lineman made it to the NFL for a short time with the Bengals and Saints.
Friends called him a "gentle giant" and remembered his kindness and intelligence.
"Any picture you see of him is just a glowing smile that lit up a room," Uffens said.
Udofia has several run-ins with police in recent years, including being arrested for indecent exposure and fleeing from police.
According to court documents, Udofia did not think he was a bad person and said he needed mental health help more than jail. A probation report just weeks before his death indicated Udofia was successfully completing the requirements of Maricopa County's Mental Health Court.
Friends are discussing how to raise awareness about mental health needs and available resources in our community.
"If we can take away the stigma that people are going through something that might be beyond their control as human beings," Uffens said, "we need to make sure that we draw attention to it."
Friends and relatives encourage anyone who knew Udofia to donate to mental health causes.