Hundreds of mourners gathered to pay tribute to a Lancashire football coach stabbed to death in New York - as police investigating his murder revealed it may have been a case of mistaken identity.
Michael Jones, 25, from Tarleton, near Preston, was killed at 4.26am local time on Sunday, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).
The ex-Tarleton Academy pupil had moved to the USA to coach junior players with the New York Red Bulls.
The Major League Soccer side held a memorial service at the First Baptist Church in New York this morning.
Mr Jones’ father Perry, 50, and mother Carole, 53, whose son was due to return to their home in The Chimes, Tarleton, next month, are thought to have been invited to attend the service by the Red Bulls.
Officers answering an emergency call found Mr Jones close to Union Square, near 25 West 14th Street, with stab wounds to his neck and torso. His ear had also been severed.
The Hispanic man suspected of killing Mr Jones is believed to have fled to Mexico.
He has been identified by investigators as Orlando Orea or Orlando Gutierrez, who took an Aero Mexico flight bound for Mexico City on Tuesday, two days after the murder.
The New York Post reported that the suspect was identified by a bartender near the scene of the murder, who described Mr Orea as a regular.
It said detectives were looking into a fight earlier in the evening that the pony-tailed man had over a woman he met in a bar earlier that night.
Police believe Mr Jones had nothing to do with the woman or the fight, but was instead mistaken for the murder suspect’s adversary.
Officers have ruled out robbery, since Mr Jones’ wallet and iPhone were still with him.
NYPD police commissioner Raymond Kelly said: “There may have been a ‘discussion’ with a woman that (the suspect) met in a bar.
“We don’t believe at this time that the victim was involved with the fight with the perpetrator in that bar.”
Mr Jones was killed while walking to the apartment of his girlfriend Bryeanna Murphy, 23. The couple had spoken on the phone earlier that night.
They had been together for six months and Miss Murphy’s father has spoken of his fondness for Mr Jones.
Tim Murphy said: ‘She is devastated. She can’t believe it has happened.’
He described Mr Jones, who had been dating his daughter for six months, as “a real gentleman”.
He said: “He was a lovely guy. Good mannered, good fun, just the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to go out with.”
Mr Murphy said his daughter last heard from Mr Jones at midnight. She was home by 2am and went to sleep.
“She didn’t know anything was wrong,” he said.
Mr Murphy said that the family has been in email contact with Mr Jones’ relatives back in England.
He said: “We expressed to them our sincere condolences. We wanted to let them know we are thinking of them.”
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Weather for Preston
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 11 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: West