A man suspected in the shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight in what appears to be a road rage incident has been released from custody in Louisiana, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato said Friday. (226215)
Credit: WGNO

(CNN) — A man suspected in the shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight in what appears to be a road rage incident has been released from custody in Louisiana without charges, authorities said Friday.

McKnight, 28, who once played for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, was shot to death Thursday afternoon at a busy intersection in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

McKnight’s vehicle and one driven by Ronald Gasser, 54, were found side by side at the intersection, Sheriff Newell Normand said. As a crowd of onlookers gathered around, officers performed CPR on McKnight but could not save him, Normand said.

Gasser remained at the scene and handed over his weapon to authorities, Normand said at a news conference. No gun was found in McKnight’s possession, Normand said.

It’s unclear how the shooting unfolded, but one witness told investigators “that there were statements being made, ‘I told you not to mess with me,’ ” Normand said.

“The only thing we know right now, everything else is conjecture, is that Mr. Gasser did in fact shoot Mr. McKnight,” the sheriff said.

Gasser “has not been charged at this time,” and the case remains under investigation, Col. John Fortunato of the sheriff’s office said Friday.

Will Smith shooting

The shooting is the second apparent road rage incident this year to leave a former NFL player dead in the New Orleans area.

In April, Will Smith, who played defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, was shot to death and his wife was wounded in downtown New Orleans, apparently after a traffic dispute with another man, authorities said. Cardell Hayes was charged with second-degree murder in Smith’s death.

High school hero

McKnight, a resident of nearby Kenner, was a football standout at John Curtis Christian High School in River Ridge, Louisiana.

He was named Louisiana’s “Mr. Football” in 2006, and The Times-Picayune newspaper named him the male high school athlete of the decade in 2009.

Rivals.com, a recruiting website, ranked him the best running back in the 2007 graduating class and the second-best player in that class. Parade magazine named McKnight the co-player of the year, along with Jimmy Clausen.

McKnight went on to play at the University of Southern California, where he was hyped as “the next Reggie Bush,” the Daily Trojan’s website reported.

McKnight never matched Bush, who led the school to a national championship, but he established himself as a dependable running back, the Daily Trojan said.

Pro career

After his junior year, McKnight left USC and was drafted into the NFL. He played from 2010 to 2012 with the New York Jets, working mostly as a kick returner on special teams. One of his highlights was returning a kickoff 107 yards against the Baltimore Ravens.

McKnight sat out 2013, played 2014 with the Kansas City Chiefs and played briefly in 2015 with Canadian pro football teams the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Edmonton Eskimos.

McKnight had been in talks about playing for another NFL team, McKnight’s stepfather, Elmo Lee, told CNN affiliate WVUE-TV. CNN could not immediately confirm that statement.

“I just want people to know that this was not a troubled kid. The boy was just trying to make it back in the NFL, that’s all he wanted to do,” Lee told the TV station. “That was his whole dream since 6 years old. I’ve been knowing him from 6, and this is just senseless, and it has to stop. Somewhere it has to stop.”

Tributes pour in

People who knew McKnight in the world of football were grieving.

Reggie Bush, who preceded McKnight at USC, tweeted: “RIP my brother Joe McKnight this one hurts bad.”

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached McKnight at USC, tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the loss of Joe McKnight. This is a terrible tragedy. Everyone loved Joe and we are going to really miss him.”

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, tweeted: “The community of NFL players is saddened and shocked by the tragic loss of Joe McKnight. RIP.”

Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, who coached McKnight at the Jets, posted on the Bills webpage: “Hearing this news about Joe McKnight is just so heartbreaking. He was such a great guy who meant a lot to a lot of people. When he first came to us at the Jets, he was this raw, talented kid. He had some issues as do a lot of guys.

“Obviously, we know the background, him going through (Hurricane) Katrina and a lot of different things. But he was always determined to get better–better as a football player and better as a man–and I thought he did that. That was exciting for me to see. …

“Joe will be remembered for a lot of good things and I was proud to have known him and proud to have coached him.”