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Former NFL running back Joe McKnight killed in apparent road rage shooting

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Former USC Trojans and New York Jets running back Joe McKnight was killed Thursday in his native Louisiana, the sheriff's department there said. (WPVI)

The man who shot former NFL player Joe McKnight was released from custody overnight, authorities said Friday, saying they'll be meeting with the district attorney's office to discuss the case.

Col. John Fortunato, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, said Ronald Gasser was released and has not been formally charged at this time in McKnight's shooting death.

"Ronald Gasser was released overnight and has not been formally charged as of yet," Fortunato said. "We will consult the district attorney's office today to discuss this further."

A day earlier, the sheriff's spokesman said authorities anticipated charging Gasser, but with what had not yet been determined.

"We continue conducting interviews with those witnesses who come forward to provide us with anything they may have seen regarding this tragic incident," Fortunato said Friday.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand identified Gasser on Thursday as the man who shot McKnight. The shooting happened about 3 p.m. Thursday in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans just across the Mississippi River.

"The only thing we know right now, everything else is conjecture, is that Mr. Gasser did in fact shoot Mr. McKnight," Normand said.

McKnight is the second former NFL player this year to die in the New Orleans area as a result of a possible road-rage incident. Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was killed in April in a shooting that was sparked by a traffic altercation.

The 28-year-old McKnight was standing outside his car when he was shot by Gasser, 54, Normand said.

Normand said Gasser was taken into custody Thursday and questioned, along with a number of witnesses.

Gasser, whose hometown wasn't immediately released, stayed at the scene and relinquished his weapon to officers, the sheriff said.

The sheriff said he did not know where the incident started, but noted that McKnight was standing outside his vehicle when he was shot. He didn't release any details on the number of times McKnight was shot, saying the coroner's office would do so.

Normand said no gun was found outside either vehicle.

Gasser's release immediately raised questions about what led to the shooting. Arthur A. Lemmann, a New Orleans-based attorney who was not connected with the case, cautioned that it was too early to tell but it could indicate Gasser says he acted in self-defense.

"It's not the end of the matter. They can continue to investigate. They can always bring charges but what it indicates to me is that there was some basis to believe that the homicide was justified. And the most typical justification of a homicide is self-defense," Lemmann said.

McKnight played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent this season in the Canadian Football League, playing two games for the Edmonton Eskimos and three for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

McKnight was considered the nation's No. 1 running back recruit when he came out of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana in 2006 and signed with the University of Southern California.

With his running and catching skills, McKnight was often compared to do-it-all running back Reggie Bush, a USC star who was the No. 2 overall pick by New Orleans in the 2006 draft.

"For a life to be lost so senselessly is just beyond description," said JT Curtis, McKnight's high school coach.

After a sometimes-spectacular college career, McKnight was drafted by the Jets in the fourth round in 2010.

His NFL career got off to a shaky start, marked by his first rookie camp practice in which he dropped a few passes, had both calves cramp up and later vomited on the side of the field because of nerves and a lack of conditioning. McKnight saw limited rookie action, but started the regular-season finale and rushed for 158 yards on 32 carries.

McKnight assumed the role as the Jets' primary kick returner in 2011, and led the NFL with a 31.6 yard kickoff return average that season. That included a franchise-record 107-yarder in 2011 against Baltimore that also stands as the team's longest play.

He was released by the Jets in their final cuts after training camp in 2013 and spent that season out of football. McKnight signed with Kansas City in January 2014 but later tore his Achilles tendon and missed the rest of the year.

Several of McKnight's former teammates and friends took to social media to express shock and sadness at the death, and to offer condolences to his family.

Former Jets teammate Antonio Cromartie wrote on Twitter: "Just got a message saying my former teammate Joe McKnight was killed today. This hurt to the heart. I can't stop crying."
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