Aaron Hernandez’s family was a troubled one. His father died young and was abusive, even by the account of his own brother. His mother’s second husband attacked her with a knife, but she went back to him. Aaron was molested as a kid.
It all added up to a recipe for tragedy, although the downfall of the former New England Patriots’ star was surely a complex one with multiple causes.
Aaron had people who loved him very much, though. His mother was a stalwart presence at his murder trial, although their relationship wasn’t without friction due to her problematic relationship choices. His brother has spoken out publicly about him. He didn’t have a wife, but he did leave behind a fiancee – Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez – and a young daughter, Avielle. Shayanna has written many protestations of love to Hernandez on Instagram.
Aaron’s family is Puerto Rican and Italian in heritage (the Puerto Rican from his dad, and the Italian from his mom).
Here’s what you need to know about Aaron Hernandez’s family:
1. Aaron’s Brother, Jonathan, Has Written a Book, Fixed Roofs, Coached & Built His Own Family in Florida
Aaron Hernandez, the fallen NFL star turned convicted murderer, had an older brother named Jonathan “DJ” Hernandez. In recent years, Jonathan has given extensive interviews about the brothers’ childhoods and on Aaron himself. He’s also written a book.
Jonathan has done a lot in the last few years. In May 2019, Jonathan Hernandez became a father for the second time. According to RadarOnline, the boy’s name is Landon Airo Hernandez. At the time, Jonathan announced the boy’s birth on his Instagram page, but that page no longer exists.
Jonathan is married to wife Karen, the mother of his son and also his daughter, who was born earlier, according to RadarOnline.
Karen Hernandez’s Instagram page says, “Parker & Landon’s Momma// In love with my best friend, Dennis John// Skincare enthusiast // Adventurer // lover of breakfast for dinner.” She’s an independent skincare consultant.
The family lives in Tampa, Florida.
In 2017, according to a lengthy interview Jonathan gave to Sports Illustrated, he was working on roofs in Wylie, Texas, where he owned a roofing company called High Rise Roofing. The story said that Jonathan generally didn’t tell his clients that he used to be called DJ Hernandez, and that he was Aaron’s brother. The name DJ came from Jonathan’s given name: Dennis John. Shortly after that, in the same year, Jonathan was announced as the Ledyard High School football coach in Connecticut. He has a master’s degree in educational counseling.
A year later, though, Jonathan resigned the position at Ledyard, citing personal reasons. “Jonathan worked hard over the last year in his role as head football coach,” Athletic Director Jim Buonocore told The Day. “We are sad to see him leave us, but we understand that family and personal obligations come first. We appreciate his efforts during his time spent with us and wish Jonathan and his family the best in the future.”
According to the Better Business Bureau, in 2019, High Rise Roofing appeared to be out of business. Online records show that, today, he lives in the Tampa, Florida area. In 2018, he created an LLC in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.
In 2018, Jonathan gave an interview to CBS about Aaron. “I loved him. I love him… the whole thing is just so tragic,” he said. He was living in Tampa, Florida then already and had written a book called “The Truth About Aaron: My Journey to Understand My Brother.”
Jonathan once could have had a football career. In 2013, according to SI, Aaron’s brother was working as a graduate assistant at Iowa. He was 27, with a failed marriage. Jonathan was the older brother by three years. According to SI, DJ had trouble finding a full-time job in football coaching after Aaron’s arrest. “They don’t want the negative publicity,” he told SI. “Which is completely fine. I understand. [But] I couldn’t get anything. I was trapped.”
Jonathan’s Harper Collins biography reads, “Jonathan Hernandez was a starting quarterback at Bristol Central High School, where he was named the Connecticut’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2003. He went on to play at the University of Connecticut, where he became a 2x team captain and earned his Master’s degree in educational psychology. He later had coaching stints at Brown University (2011), The University of Miami (2012) and The University of Iowa (2013-14). He is currently the head coach at Ledyard High School in Ledyard, Connecticut.” (But, as noted, he has since resigned the Ledyard position.)
2. Aaron’s Dad, Dennis Hernandez, Was Abusive & Died Young
Jonathan has discussed the difficult childhood that he and Aaron shared.
Years after their father Dennis Hernandez’s sudden and untimely death after routine hernia surgery (the father died when Aaron was 16 at age 49), Aaron’s brother revealed to the Boston Globe that Dennis had subjected his children to beatings and abuse.
A Sports Illustrated interview with Aaron’s brother Jonathan says Dennis was 49 “when he went in for routine hernia surgery.” The day after it, though, Dennis “said he wasn’t feeling well.” That was unusual because he never complained. Jonathan told SI he left the hospital crying because he worried something bad was about to happen.
“The last hours of the father’s life are a blur to the son: infection, intensive care, tubes coming out of Dennis’s body, doctors yelling ‘Clear!’ as they employ the shock paddles, blood dripping from the patient’s nose, Terri and the boys resting their heads on Dennis’s chest, crying, their tears welling up around his cross pendant,” Sports Illustrated wrote.
However, a Boston Globe profile on Hernandez’s childhood described his father as abusive. “Aaron and his older brother were often beaten and brutalized by their dad. Aaron didn’t cry at his father’s funeral, and people took note. He kept it all inside,” the Globe reported.
To the Globe, Jonathan detailed severe beatings that he and Aaron received at the hands of their father. “I picked up the phone once to call, to seek help,” the brother said to the Globe, revealing the family abuse for the first time. “And his response was, ‘Call them.’ And he handed me the phone, and he said, ‘I’m going to beat you even harder, you and your brother, and they’re going to have to pull me off of you when they knock down the door.’”
Jonathan told The Globe that homosexuality was not accepted by Dennis. The Netflix documentary revealed that Aaron Hernandez had relationships with men, a revelation also made to other sources earlier.
According to Dennis’s obituary, “Dennis Hernandez, 49, husband of Terri (Valentine) Hernandez of Bristol, passed away on Friday, (January 6, 2006) at Bristol Hospital. Mr. Hernandez was born on February 9, 1956 in Bristol, a son of the late Bienvenido and Josephine (Garcia) Hernandez. Dennis was employed at Bristol Eastern High School and took great pleasure in watching his sons play sports and attending their games.”
The obit continued, “In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons, Dennis ‘DJ’ Hernandez and Aaron Hernandez both of Bristol; his brother and sister-in-law Vito and Denora Hernandez of Bristol, his twin brother and sister-in-law David and Lisa Hernandez of Bristol; his sister and brother-in-law Ruth and Andre Valderrama of Bristol; his nieces Kizzy and Emily Hernandez; Davina and Krystal Hernandez and Tanya and Jennifer Valderrama.”
3. Aaron’s Mom Was a Constant Presence in Court But Had Tumultuous Relationships
Terri Valentine Hernandez has been a constant in the story of her son. Her on-and-off relationship choices with abusive men also made her son’s childhood tumultuous.
Terri Hernandez, who has worked as an administrative secretary for a school, still lives in Connecticut, and she’s still in a relationship with Jeff Cummings, the former husband who once attacked her with a knife.
Today, Aaron’s mom is 60 years old, according to online records. She lives in Unionville, Connecticut.
Terri Hernandez is Italian-American in heritage. Over the years, she has worked as an administrative secretary at the South Side School in Bristol, Connecticut, where Aaron was raised.
Terri had also been a Bristol High School graduate. According to The Boston Globe, when Aaron was growing up, the Hernandez parents, Dennis and Terri, had a tumultuous marriage. They married in 1986, divorced five years later, got married again five years after that. They filed for bankruptcy in 1999.
Things got even more complicated. According to The Providence Journal, Jennifer “Gina” Mercado, a cousin of Hernandez, testified at his murder trial. She discussed the impact that Aaron’s father’s death had on him (he was 16), and she explained that her older sister Tanya Singleton’s husband “had an extramarital affair with Terri Valentine-Hernandez, Aaron’s mother.”
Terri Hernandez and Jeffrey Cummings were later married, but they, too, were divorced “after Cummings attacked her with a knife and was sent to prison,” the newspaper reported.
However, at Aaron’s trial for murder, Cummings accompanied Terri, sometimes putting his arm around her shoulder, according to Providence Journal. According to Daily Beast, Cummings has a criminal history to include drugs, assault on a police officer, and another domestic violence incident. The site added that Cummings flunked 19 drugs tests in one time span of less than a year. In 2010, he was accused of attacking Terri with a knife. Terri divorced Cummings that year.
However, Terri’s mom’s obit indicates that, as of August 2019, she was now back with Cummings.
According to the August 6, 2019 obituary for Terri’s mom, Edith Valentine, Terri remains with Jeff Cummings today.
Aaron explained how this all affected him in a prison call, telling his mom Terri: “I was the happiest little kid and you f****d me up. I lost my father, had to go to college, I had nobody. What the f**k did you expect I was going to do? Become a perfect angel?”
Terri was a fixture at Aaron’s murder trial. The Boston Herald reported in 2015 that Aaron wanted Terri and his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins in the courtroom. “It is reasonable, appropriate, and humane that a defendant’s closest family members be permitted to attend his trial,” Hernandez’s attorneys wrote, according to the Herald.
4. Aaron Left Behind a Daughter & Fiancee
Shayanna Jenkins was the fiancee of NFL star Aaron Hernandez, and the mother of his child. Aaron wrote a suicide note to Shayanna, calling her his soulmate. After his death, she returned the favor, writing of Aaron on Instagram, “Your legacy will live on, until we meet again … WE love you very very much and you are and will continue to be missed.”
Hernandez was sitting in prison, when he hanged himself in his cell, for the murder of Odin Lloyd, who was dating Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Shayanna. However, Shayanna, judging from recent Instagram posts, never lost her affection for the fallen star.
Where is Jenkins today? What is she doing now? Surviving, even thriving. She wrote on Instagram, “Life has knocked me down, it showed me things I never wanted to see, I experienced sadness and failures. But I always get up.” She goes by the name Shayanna Hernandez, even though she never got to live her dream of marrying Aaron, her childhood sweetheart (a judge approved her request to change her last name in 2015 to match her daughter’s.) She’s had another child and lives in Rhode Island.
Jenkins Hernandez is the mother of Avielle Jenkins-Hernandez, Aaron’s daughter. The tragic downfall of Hernandez – who went from football phenom to convicted murderer – is featured in a new Netflix series called Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. It argues that Hernandez was leading a secret gay lifestyle that may have contributed to his turmoil. That revelation, which has also been made before, hasn’t stopped Shayanna’s love.
Shayanna posted on Instagram on January 16, 2020, writing, “I wanted to let all of you sweet sweet souls know I have tried to read every message sent on IG and through email (positive and negative) … the amount of support and positive energy is again unreal! I’m sure you will all understand how imperative it is to take some time away from social media.”
The Instagram post came the day after the Netflix show streamed. Shayanna also wrote a lengthy post on Instagram about Aaron in 2018, a year after his suicide. She wrote:
“A year today….. I remember getting a call saying you had passed. Dropping the phone and crying uncontrollably I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to get to you as fast as I knew how so you weren’t alone anymore. This was by far the worst day of my life especially when things were looking better….I was / still am so confused and wish I could ask you tons of questions – not just for me but for our daughter. I’ve suffered hurt, sadness and definitely anger BUT I’ve had this little girl to make my spirits higher.”
Shayanna continued: “Although, I hurt today and continue to figure this thing called ‘life’ out … we will celebrate your life with love, joy and happiness. You’ve touched more people’s hearts than I’ve ever seen – not just from your smile but you being you. I thank you for showing me things I’d never get to experience in life and creating a better one for your daughter and I … I thank you for allowing me to share all of our experiences and create new memories with this precious princess. Your legacy will live on, until we meet again … WE love you very very much and you are and will continue to be missed ❤️#RIPAaron#81#hisdaughterskeeper #oursuperhero.”
Aaron Hernandez left suicide notes for both Shayanna and their daughter.
To Shayanna, Hernandez wrote, in part, “You have always been my soul-mate and I want you to love life and know I’m always with you. I told you what was coming indirectly! I love you so much and know [you] are an angel,” Hernandez wrote. “We split into two to come change the world! Your characteristic is that of a true angel and the definition of God’s love! Tell my story fully but never think anything besides how much I love you.”
In the letter to Avielle, Hernandez wrote, “Daddy will never leave you! I’m entering to the timeless realm in which I can enter into any form at any time because everything that could happen or not happened I see all at once! Life is eternal—believe!!!” He also wrote: “Love, repent, and see me/yourself in everyone because that’s what the truth is! I’ll see you all in the heavens awaiting you all with the same love.”
In 2019, on the anniversary of Aaron’s suicide, Shayanna shared a photo of Aaron holding their child in bed. She wrote: “Today we think of you with heavy hearts and positive memories ! Although you aren’t here physically Avielle and I speak about you often and keep you in close spirit. The energy and personality Avielle has is totally you ! They say it takes a village and that’s very true, I’ve had a great support group overall … however I’d like to especially appreciate the men in Avielles life that have been the guidance she needs and more – she may not know it yet but you all have a huge impact on her life and Aaron wouldn’t want it any other way !!! Because of the emotional support you all have shown and provided – this day pushes me to be stronger and accomplish what Aaron May have wanted to. We love and miss you very much ! May you continue to Rest In Peace.”
5. Aaron’s Grandmother Recently Died
Hernandez’s maternal grandmother died in 2019.
The obit says that Edith Valentine “was predeceased by: her husband John Valentine; her son Robert Valentine; her grandson Aaron Hernandez; and her sons-in-law, Dennis Hernandez and Jeff Tye. She is survived by: her children, Terri Hernandez (Jeff Cummings) of Farmington, Lynn Laffin (Pat) of Poughkeepsie, NY and Patrick Valentine (Nicole) of West Hartford; her close friend Grace Doner; her grandson Dennis Hernandez (Karen); and her great grandchildren, Parker Hernandez, Landon Hernandez, Avielle Hernandez and Anthony Baehr.”
Edith’s obit says she “was a beloved mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She enjoyed spending time by the pool with her grandchildren, family vacations, card games with good friends and big family parties in her backyard. She was an avid UConn Huskies Women’s basketball fan and enjoyed watching them on TV. She loved her companions, cats Beat and Happy. Edith lived a full and happy life and she will be sadly missed by her family. She was also a member of the Church of St. Matthew in Forestville.”
Terri later married her niece’s husband, Jeff Cummings, upsetting Hernandez.
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