s a hastily dressed Aaron Hernandez was led out of his North Attleborough, Mass. home in 2013, he was flanked by a pair of plainclothes detectives in crisp suits. Arrested for the murder of his close friend Odin Lloyd, Hernandez was hurried into a nearby police car as members of local and national media looked on.
One of those in the crowd was New York Daily News reporter Kevin Armstrong, BC ’06. But something about the arrest struck Armstrong more than his peers. After the arrest, he began work on an article that spiraled into seven years of research and production, culminating in a three-part Netflix docuseries, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, which premiered Wednesday.
Armstrong’s journey covering the Hernandez cases began as he watched the former Patriots player get ushered out of his house and disappear behind the bulletproof door of a squad car. At the time, all Armstrong knew of the story was that Lloyd’s body had been found in a nearby industrial park, and the tire marks, text messages, surveillance video, and cellphone tower trackings all pointed to one possible suspect.
rmstrong had driven up to North Attleborough the morning after Hernandez became a suspect, in anticipation of his arrest the very next morning. As he stood swarmed by the clicks of shutters around him, he couldn’t help but see Hernandez as the superstar player he had interviewed after a Super Bowl loss just one year prior.
“Here was the guy who caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl, which I covered,” said Armstrong. “I knew him as a player. He was someone who I interacted with and saw in the locker room. … Having had a front-row view of what he could do on the field, it was just very intriguing to me to kind of piece together what events would have led him to make the choices that he did.”
But in the years after Hernandez’s arrest, Armstrong would come to discover more and more complicated details about the former NFL tight end’s mangled life of professional sports, abuse, brain trauma, violence, and crime that gave way to a wider, more head-scratching narrative with every passing day.
Working alongside renowned Hollywood filmmaker Geno McDermott and fellow journalist Dan Wetzel, Armstrong’s vision has finally come to life after seven years of hard work. What began as an article, and later became an idea for a book, instead turned into a three-part docuseries released to the public on one of the world’s most recognized streaming services.
Armstrong attributed his success to the principle of “panoramic reporting,” which he described as the way to “look at everything from every angle.”
“I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just this, you know, tabloid story,” he said.
Most of the media coverage around the time of the arrest focused on Aaron Hernandez, the troubled millionaire NFL hotshot, rather than Aaron Hernandez, the man whose stardom couldn’t save him from the pressures of fame, the dangerous world of drugs, and a lifetime of familial hardships.
Even though he was the man who seemed to have everything—a college football national championship, a fiancée, an infant child, a beautiful suburban home, and a $40 million payday— Hernandez’s life was much more complicated than the media made it out to be, and Armstrong was determined to seek out the whole story.
His way of getting every detail involved attending trials and funerals, speaking to friends and family of Hernandez and his victims, and going to practices for Lloyd’s former team. To McDermott, that made all the difference.
I think what makes our project different than what's already out there is that we’re presenting the first unbiased, all-inclusive, journalistic approach to this story in a visual medium. Geno McDermott
“I think what makes our project different than what’s already out there is that we’re presenting the first unbiased, all-inclusive, journalistic approach to this story in a visual medium,” McDermott said. “We’re probably the only film crew who’ve been tracking the story for this long.”
After working together for a bit on writing a book recounting Hernandez’s life leading up to the trials, Armstrong and Wetzel decided that something was missing from the story: A book about the first murder alone didn’t tell it all.
“After the first trial, we kind of spoke to each other and said we think there’s something more beyond what we had written to date,” Armstrong said. And whether Hernandez’s story should be a series, a movie, or something else entirely, the two men had no idea—but they were determined to answer both questions.
But just as Armstrong and Wetzel began to gain more momentum on their project, detectives reopened a 2012 cold case of a double murder, and prosecutors determined that Hernandez was the primary suspect. He was found not guilty in court for those murders but committed suicide less than a week after the verdict while still serving life for his 2015 conviction.
“Just when people think they have the entire story figured out, new details emerge and you’re forced to dig in again,” said McDermott in a press release.
It seemed as though Armstrong’s work had just begun, and he and Wetzel were forced to go back to the drawing board. Soon after, McDermott approached the two to begin work on turning their idea for a book into a film adaptation. As it turns out, the journalists’ expertise was invaluable.
“Dan [Wetzel] and Kevin [Armstrong] helped make inroads for interviews from the relationships they made through their work and research for their book,” said McDermott. “They kept us on the front lines of new details and information becoming available and gave the great interviews that encapsulate this wild story.”
rmstrong first gained an interest in sports reporting while working for The Heights during his time at Boston College, but his journey with writing began back in high school when his English teacher had the students analyze the musical Rent.
“That really opened my eyes to seeing the world as kind of an ensemble cast of characters,” Armstrong said. “You can really just look at each person, tell a story, and have an understanding of their point of view. I like to think that I got into journalism because I never wanted to stop learning and asking questions.”
He carried that same mentality into his work with the Hernandez cases, as his extensive research led him all over the country to interview, research, and understand the cast of characters in Hernandez’s life.
“I think that there’s an important set of responsibilities that reporters have to really breathe life into the story and bring to the audience’s attention just who the victims were,” he said. “I think that it’s invaluable when you do speak with the victim’s family to pay them respect and then really try to relay who that person was.”
This set of responsibilities, Armstrong said, came from the PULSE program at BC, which he was a member of. In his time in the yearlong service-immersion class, Armstrong tutored at a juvenile detention center for boys in Dorchester, notably the same neighborhood where Lloyd lived. It was there that Armstrong first gained an interest in telling the stories of those who are marginalized or incarcerated. His newfound understanding of the criminal justice system, combined with his drive for truth and love of sports writing, were the early makings of his career.
Armstrong’s track record in journalism has included covering the Plaxico Burress, Jerry Sandusky, and Michael Vick cases; the London Olympics; plane crashes; Super Bowls; and plenty of other career-defining stories. His relentless search for truth has earned him honors in the Best American Sports Writing series, awards from the Associated Press, and a spot in the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.
Although the culmination of the Hernandez project has finally arrived for Armstrong, his search for truth and justice is far from over. Even while working on the docuseries, Armstrong has been freelancing, covering the likes of the anti-Semitic attacks in the greater New York area, professionalism in youth sports, and federal corruption trials, determined to tell the stories that the world needs to hear.
“At the end of the day, reporting is the most important thing,” Armstrong said. “A lot of people can offer opinions. … I think what’s invaluable down the line is understanding that you can get the information, help bring complex stories to light, and deal with complicated issues. If you do that, there’s going to be an audience for the stories that you tell.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Kevin Armstrong