BMX rider Dave Mirra, who for years dominated his sport even as he helped others embrace it, has died at age 41. Police in Greenville, N.C., say they found Mirra "sitting in a truck with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound."
Police found Mirra in a parked vehicle shortly after he had visited friends in Greenville, where he had lived for years as an active member of the community. Mirra is survived by his wife and two daughters.
The news shocked sports fans and led Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas to mourn "a great friend and wonderful human being who touched the lives of so many around the world with his gift."
Today, Thomas said, "We love you, Dave Mirra. We're going to miss you."
In the hours before his death, Mirra posted two images to his Instagram account.
In one, he's seen high in the air, touching the rear wheel of his bike to the rim of a basketball goal at a Greenville high school. The other image shows Mirra and his wife; in the caption, he wrote, "My rock! Thank god."
On the bike, Mirra had the ability to soar. His attention to detail in training allowed him to make intricate tricks look inevitable. He was a star from a young age — and in 2000, he pulled off something in a contest that had previously only been talked about: a double backflip.
Mirra's athletic gifts resulted in 14 gold medals at the X Games — an international competition where he won medals every year from 1995 to 2008. (He was forced to miss the 2006 games due to injury.) For a sense of how integral Mirra was to his sport, consider that the X Games were first held in the summer of 1995.
Those achievements, and his engaging personality, also brought Mirra fame, from appearances on David Letterman's show to having two video games named for him, and many appearances on ESPN and MTV, where he hosted two seasons of the network's Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
His death prompted local news WNCT sports director Brian Bailey to say, "Dave Mirra was to BMX what Michael Jordan was to the NBA, what Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron was to Major League Baseball: He was simply the best of the best."
Skateboarder Tony Hawk, a longtime friend and colleague of Mirra's, said in a tweet last night, "Goodbye Dave Mirra, a true pioneer, icon and legend. Thank you for the memories... we are heartbroken."
At a news conference Friday morning, Mayor Thomas, who said he was one of Mirra's many friends in the community, said, "This is tough to process."
Calling it "a very difficult day," Thomas added that while Mirra was known around the world for his spectacular feats on the bike, "He was just a dad in this community. He was just a friend in this community."
Thomas later said that only months ago, Mirra had approached him about doing more to help youngsters in eastern North Carolina explore BMX riding.
Mirra's family issued a statement Friday via his agent, Steve Astephen:
"Dave's wife and family are shocked and saddened by the loss of such a remarkable person whom they loved so deeply. Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers and for respecting their privacy through this difficult time."
Describing the police approach to the case, Chief Mark Holtzman said that after officers and medical personnel were called to the spot where Mirra was found, "it was apparent that he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound." He added that Mirra had been seated in his own truck and had been found with a handgun he also owned.
Holtzman went on to urge anyone struggling with thoughts about suicide to seek help — and for others to be vigilant and ready to intervene if they suspect a loved one is trying to cope with such thoughts alone. They provided the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
Asked if Mirra's death could be viewed as anything other than suicide — as an accident, perhaps — Holtzman said, "At this point, no. There's absolutely nothing."
There was no suicide note, he added. Holtzman went on to say that from speaking with people who were close to Mirra, police learned the athlete had been struggling with depression.
In his remarks, Thomas said that while it was too early to know all the circumstances, there's a chance that Mirra, who endured countless falls on ramps and at BMX parks over his career, may have been coping with long-term damage like that suffered by football players such as Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.