Ex-UL receiver Riles gone too soon: 'They took his life out of foolishness'
What hurts Diedre Riles so much is the way her son died.
Al Riles, 27, was shot and killed Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas, according to his mother, Diedre Riles.
A Ragin’ Cajuns football player from 2012-16, he was UL’s leading receiver as a fifth-year senior.
“I found out (Monday) that he went to talk to one of his friends about something,” Diedre Riles told The Daily Advertiser, “and they argued. … Not nothing serious – too serious – you know?
“And another guy was out there in the car. A couple of guys. … Well, they supposedly got out of the car, another guy supposedly got out of the car, and he shot my son. He shot my son while he was on the ground tussling with this other guy. He shot him.”
The office Tarrant County (Texas) Medical Examiner confirmed Riles’ death for The Daily Advertiser on Wednesday morning, citing homicide as the manner and a gunshot wound to the chest as the cause.
“The sad part about it is he also was a friend – was supposed to be a friend – of my son, you know? It’s horrible,” Diedre Riles said with reference to the alleged shooter. “It’s horrible, because he lost his lost life to people that he helped.”
Therein lies the irony.
Eric Treuil, a UL campus minister, was devastated too.
Chaplain for the football program, Treuil fondly remembers Riles not just for his many catches but more so as a team peacekeeper.
“He’s the guy who could always negotiate between players who were upset with each other,” Treuil said, “and get everybody to focus on the common enemy – the other team – and not be fighting amongst themselves.
“Al was that kind of guy that brought some life, brought some good juice, to the team. Even post-graduation, when Al would come to the complex, come to games, (he was) always a joy to see, a joy to be around.”
Which is why Treuil said he was “really heartbroken by this young man leaving us way, too, too soon.”
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Current UL tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux was Riles’ position coach in 2016, when the Cajuns had a group of mostly young receivers.
“Al was, without a doubt, the Alpha in that room,” said Desormeaux, a former Cajuns quarterback. “It was apparent early on. … He had a great year that year, but I think the biggest thing he did was he was the glue.
“That year was really up and down as far as wins and losses went. A lot of things were happening. And he was really the liaison between myself and the younger players, and he did a really good job of relaying my message and keeping the room on-board.”
'The chain in the family'
Diedre Riles fondly recalled her son while speaking by telephone from his apartment in Dallas, where he lived after a bid to play pro football – he briefly was signed by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2017 and the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018 – ran dry.
The owner of a graduate degree in criminal justice from UL, Riles was in Texas chasing another passion.
“Al loves to cook,” his mother said.
Diedre was in on a secret kept from other relatives: He was attending culinary school. An A-student, according to Mom, scheduled to graduate next month.
Desormeaux, who spoke with Riles at length this past summer, was in on the secret too.
“He sounded really excited about life and what was ahead of him, and had a really good plan for it,” Desormeaux said. “I was so excited to hear from him, because you always think football is your way.
“It ends, and it’s hard, and Al went through that. We all went through that. But … he found something he was passionate about again.”
Each Sunday, Riles would prepare a dish or meal and present it for class online.
“He was cooking every weekend,” Diedre said. “He showed me, ‘Mama, look what I done made.’ ”
Diedre jokes that Al – the father of a 5-year-old daughter – was in competition with his sister Jamie Riles, a former Tulane track athlete who holds two degrees of her own.
“Al was like the chain in the family. He kept everybody linked. He kept everybody getting along,” she said. “He was a positive vibe. Always. He always kept me on my toes. He never wanted to see his mother upset.”
'I'm going with the Cajuns'
Football was Riles’ first love.
“It was in his heart,” Diedre said.
The Lakeshore High product played ball since he was 6 and was a teammate in his Covington youth league with best friend Otha Peters Jr., a former Arkansas, UL and Washington Redskins linebacker now with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Diedre remembers Al being recruited by UL and what he told her when he decided to sign.
“ ‘They’re red,’ ” he said, “ ‘I’m going with the Cajuns.’ ”
His favorite color. UL’s too.
'They took his life'
Much like chaplain Treuil, former Cajuns offensive coordinator Jorge Munoz – Riles’ position coach for part of their time together – remembers Riles and Peters taking team leadership in their hands.
“It was a positive message,” Munoz said, “about ‘Guys, let’s bring this team together. We’ve got to work harder. Big week for us.’ ”
Now Cajun supporters are being asked to come together for Riles.
Organized by a family friend and approved by Diedre Riles, a GoFundMe campaign he been set up to help raise money for Riles’ funeral and related expenses.
He had no insurance, according to his mother.
“Al had a little girl that he loved with all of his heart,” Desormeaux said.
“At 27 years old your life is really getting started, and it’s magnified when you leave people behind, especially children that depend on you. It’s heartbreaking breaking, really.”
Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of late Monday, when Diedre Riles was still in Texas dealing with the reality her son was gone.
She said she planned to speak with a Fort Worth Police Department detective Tuesday and was hopeful a suspect would soon turn himself in to authorities.
Fort Worth police said Monday they were investigating a shooting that occurred Saturday and that “Upon arrival officers located a male victim with an apparent gunshot wound to his upper torso.”
“The victim was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment,” the department said, “but did not survive his injuries and was pronounced deceased at the hospital.”
The Fort Worth case is that of Riles, records obtained from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office show.
The police department’s homicide unit had no updates on the case Tuesday, a Fort Worth police spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Diedre Riles is left trying to make sense of how someone remembered for helping those he loved most stay together – teammates, family – has been taken away.
“You know,” she said, “Al helped a lot of people since he’s been in Dallas, because of lot of them guys needed help.
“But they took his life. They took his life out of foolishness.”
What we learned: UL Ragin' Cajuns 27, Arkansas State Red 20