Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes, 25, dies in Florida boat crash

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes died from injuries he sustained in a boat crash that happened Wednesday afternoon off the coast of Miami, authorities said Thursday. He was 25 years old.

“Everyone at Tepper Sports & Entertainment is devastated by the tragic passing of Anton Walkes. He was a tremendous son, father, partner and teammate whose joyous approach to life touched everyone he met,” Owner David Tepper said in a statement. “Anton made those around him better people in all areas of life and represented Charlotte FC to the highest standard both on and off the pitch. He will be greatly missed by many and our thoughts and prayers are with Anton’s family during this heartbreaking time. The Club offers its full support to all those impacted during this period of mourning.”

The Royal Family, a fan support club for Charlotte FC, held a vigil Thursday outside the East Gate of Bank of America Stadium to honor Walkes’ life. The vigil started at 4 p.m., and dozens of fans brought cards, jerseys, banners, flowers, and signs to place against the gate. Charlotte FC owner David Tepper and the team arrived together, huddled around the memorial created by fans.

Charlotte FC is more than a just a football club to some fans.

“Our family is hurting right now,” fan Jorge Gonzalez told Channel 9 outside the stadium.

Will Palaszczuk who calls Charlotte FC games for WFNX said Walkes was a friend since before they both moved to the Queen City.

“Just the most charismatic individual somebody who every teammate who played with him, loved him,” he said.

Palaszczuk said Walkes took much pride in creating a second home in Charlotte.

Anton’s legacy will forever be part of the fabric of this football club, Palaszczuk said.

The club posted a video on Tuesday evening of the team at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida wildlife officials told Channel 9 Walkes was found unconscious after two vessels collided in the water near the Miami Marine Stadium basin around 3 p.m. Wednesday. He was brought to shore and taken to the hospital in critical condition, officials said.

Walkes was operating one of the boats that crashed, the state agency said in a statement.

It was unclear whether anyone else was injured. The agency’s investigation is ongoing.

Walkes was drafted by Charlotte FC from the Atlanta United FC roster in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft. He played 23 matches for Charlotte FC.

He was acquired by Atlanta United in 2020, where he had previously been on loan. He started 65 times in three total seasons with the team.

Before he went to Atlanta, he was at the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club Academy in London.

“We are heartbroken from the loss of Anton Walkes, a truly incredible father, loving person, and outstanding human being,” said Sporting Director Zoran Krneta. “Anton embodied what it means to be a part of Charlotte Football Club and our entire community is grieving over this tragedy. The impact he made in the locker room and throughout Charlotte will never be forgotten. We are thinking of his lovely family during this time and will support them fully in every way imaginable.”

Charlotte FC said it would not release any further information at this time to respect Walkes’ friends and family.

“The team returned from Florida last night and the match tomorrow that was due to take place will not be played,” a team spokesperson told Channel 9 Friday.

Charlotte FC was originally scheduled to end Phase 1 of its preseason training with a friendly match Saturday.

On Thursday, fans and supporters from around the world found ways to honor him. In Charlotte, dozens of supporters gathered to pay their respects. And during their match that day, Tottenham Hotspur players wore black arm bands.

Walkes’ impact was felt beyond the pitch. One club official described him as a true light upon the world, Channel 9′s Phil Orban reports.

Tributes came pouring in on social media from his teammates -- Jaylin Lindsey called Walkes the best teammate he could’ve asked for. Brandt Bronico said he was absolutely heartbroken, and thanked him for being who he was.

You can read their tributes -- and others -- below:

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(WATCH PREVIOUS BELOW: Charlotte FC Pick 2: Anton Walkes)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.