The morning former ASU football player Tyrice Thompson was stabbed outside a Scottsdale bar, his father Richard woke up after he heard a baby cry. He received the bad news just moments later when the phone rang.
“I usually sleep in (the living room), and I heard this baby cry,” he said. “It was kind of like the same cry he had when he was born. I think he was crying because he had been injured.”
Thompson, 27, died of multiple back injuries Feb. 2. after he was attacked while working as a bouncer at Martini Ranch.
Friends and family gathered Sunday to say goodbye to him in an emotional service at his church, Pilgrim Rest, in Phoenix.
Thompson’s sister, Torrie, said she believed he was still looking out for her.
“Today I stand alone without my brother beside me,” she said during the service. “I know he is here now to help me get through this.”
Thompson has gone home to be with God, Torrie said.
“On our last night together, I sat in a chair with my forehead on his arm,” she said. “I woke up several times to watch his declining blood pressure … and it was the hardest night of my life.”
Nancy Taylor, Thompson’s mother, said her son lived a full and active life.
“He was my 10-pound, 8.5-ounce baby,” she said. “Our little angel was born.”
Thompson touched many lives, Taylor said.
Taylor sings in the church’s choir at Pilgrim Rest. She sang Sunday during the service.
“Singing kind of helps me cope with the situation,” she said. “Tyrice was so passionate with his music, and he would’ve been the first one to say I could do it.”
Thompson played the drums and the piano and was a prolific lyricist. When he was a boy, he also sang in his church’s choir.
“Ty kind of picked that up from me,” Taylor said. “I’ve never heard his dad sing.”
His father coaches track and field at South Mountain High School. He was Thompson’s coach during his junior and senior year.
Richard’s living room is filled with memorabilia of his son’s accomplishments. A framed Sun Devil Jersey with the number 81, newspaper articles and a signed football sit in a trophy case along one of the walls.
Thompson was 3 years old when his parents divorced. Richard received residential custody over his son.
“I was a track coach, and everywhere I went, I took him,” he said. “We used to travel a lot during the summer.”
Thompson saw his mother over the weekends and during the holidays.
“It was hard while Tyrice was growing up, and I wasn’t living with him,” Taylor said. “But we were able to interact a lot still.”
Thompson was first introduced to football when he joined the organization Pop Warner at the age of 8. His stepfather, Aaron, took him to practice regularly.
“Tyrice hated the conditioning part,” Taylor said. “I remember one day my husband and I took him to practice … and Ty looked at me through his helmet with his little puppy eyes. But the hitting part, he loved that.”
Thompson’s father and stepfather encouraged him to keep playing.
“Richard and Aaron were always working together,” she said. “They were both instrumental in his football career.”
During his high school years, Thompson played basketball, football and was on track and field team.
“Tyrice wanted to play with ASU so badly,” Taylor said.
The signing date for ASU had passed when Thompson was invited to play at the University of Massachusetts.
“He was pretty much set to go to UMass, and I was upset about it,” Richard said. “We were talking about him being 4,000 miles away, and that was not setting real well with me.”
Dirk Koetter, who coached ASU football at the time, called Richard to tell him Thompson would be receiving the last scholarship he had available.
People thought he was a walk-on because he signed with the school after the signing date, Richard said.
“I told coach Koetter, ‘You have no idea what kind of impact you’ve had on our family,’” he said. “The whole family was elated.”
Thompson played wide receiver while at ASU from 2003 to 2007.
His whole family was present for each one of his games.
“The one game that sticks out in my mind is when he made his first touchdown pass,” Taylor said. “I’m standing yelling, ‘That’s my baby! That’s my baby!’”
The touchdown happened during ASU’s victory over UA at the 2007 Territorial Cup.
Thompson was not only a successful athlete, but a dedicated student, Taylor said.
“He never knew a stranger, and he was always kind to everybody,” she said.
Thompson’s relationship with his sister, Torrie, was very special to him, Taylor said.
“They were more than just sister and brother,” she said. “They were best friends.”
Thompson is the youngest of four siblings.
Torrie said she was always Thompson’s No. 1 fan.
“We were a team,” she said. “Never once in my life did he fail me.”
Family was always very important to Thompson, Taylor said.
“We are very family-oriented,” she said. “Tyrice had a very good relationship with all his family.”
A crucial aspect of Thompson’s life was his faith. He went to church every Sunday since he was very young.
“Our faith is really strong,” Taylor said. “Ty had a Christian upbringing.”
Faith has helped Thompson’s family survive this tragedy, Richard said.
“We know that one day we will see him again,” he said.
Taylor was in Oklahoma to bury her stepmother when she received the news about her son from her daughter Torrie.
“I was devastated and I was so far away,” she said. “I had to wait (two days) to catch a flight back to Phoenix.”
It was one of the hardest phone calls of her life, Taylor said.
“To get news like that is something I never wanted to have to happen to me,” she said. “I don’t wish that on any parent.”
When Taylor arrived at the hospital, the doctors sat down with the family and told them they needed to decide whether to disconnect the respirator that was helping Thompson breathe.
“All of us were agonizing with the decision,” she said. “Ty took over and made the decision for us. His health started to decline very rapidly.”
Richard said he is very thankful for everything the doctors did for his son.
“The nurses and the doctors really tried their hardest,” he said. “Torrie’s boyfriend was there to get all the information, because I was so devastated.”
Thompson was a great person, Taylor said.
“Some days … my phone would just go off in the middle of the day, and it was him texting ‘Love you mama, have a good day’ with a smiley face,” she said. “That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Her son impacted everybody around him, Taylor said.
“I’m just proud that he was the man that he turned out to be,” she said. “I can’t wait to tell his son what kind of man his dad was.”
Thompson’s son, Takai, will be 2 years old next month. Thompson and Takai’s mother separated a few months ago, so Thompson was living with his father when he was killed.
“Just to watch him and how gentle he was with his son,” Taylor said. “Many times he would look at Takai and just go, ‘You just don’t know how much I love you!’”
One of Thompson’s dreams was to teach Takai how to cook, she said.
“Takai was just his whole life,” Richard said.
Richard has a video in his phone where Thompson is reading the newspaper’s headlines to Takai, who is sitting in his lap and looking at him smiling.
The family has started a fund to go toward Takai’s education and upbringing.
Thompson was the first person in his family to graduate from college.
“To watch him walk across that stage and being handed that diploma was such a proud moment for me,” Taylor said. “We were holding signs, screaming and yelling.”
Terry Wright is a close friend of the family and owner of Spot Fitness, where Tyrice trained.
“He was just a quality person,” he said. “I was very surprised … but after the shock, I was just thinking about his family and supporting them.”
Thompson’s family is preparing for the court proceedings of Ian MacDonald, the man police believe stabbed him.
“We want justice for Tyrice because no one deserves this,” Taylor said.
Thompson is in a better place now, Taylor said.
“I’ve been told that to be absent with the body is to be present with the Lord,” she said. “So I know that his spirit has already been taken up … and I’m good with that.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @dpalomabp