Nine years after his brother's death, Detroit Lions' Danny Shelton has found peace

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Nine years after his brother was shot and killed in a neighborhood dispute, new Detroit Lions defensive tackle Danny Shelton said he has found peace thanks to football, his dogs and a few special people in his life.

Shelton, who signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Lions on Wednesday, was a senior in high school when a gunman killed his brother, Skeevie, and injured another brother, Gaston.

The incident caused him to briefly reconsider playing football, and left him dealing with emotional issues he has since overcome.

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Danny Shelton.

“Throughout my life and journey, facing a lot of adversity, that was probably one of the biggest impacts,” Shelton said in a conference call Sunday with Detroit reporters. “It was a time where I was young and didn’t know if I was going to continue with my plan to attend University of Washington.

"But I had a great support from family, support from the team. And just really helped me keep my life in perspective and possibilities of being able to provide for my family and continue to represent my family. That just kept me going.”

Shelton witnessed the shooting, which happened exactly four years before the Cleveland Browns made him the 12th pick of the 2015 NFL draft, and he nearly fell victim to the gunman himself.

According to news reports at the time, the incident in Auburn, Washington, south of Seattle, started when Gaston was trying to break up a street fight involving two families not related to the Sheltons.

Danny Shelton lines up during a game last season.

Shelton said in a draft diary video he shot for Grit Media in 2011, that Gaston called as the family was leaving church and said he’d been jumped. Shelton and his brothers, Skeevie and Kevin, went to Gaston’s aid, and when the group approached a duplex where a member of one of the feuding families lived, shots rang out.

“The whole thing just happened so fast,” Shelton said in his video diary. “My second oldest brother (Gaston) gets shot, I wasn’t there to see that. My little brother (Kevin) was right next to him. Everything was crazy at the time. The gunman was still standing up. The gun is jammed. I got the chance to make a move and I throw a chair at him and I take him down to the ground, start beating him.

“All of these things just pop into my head not really knowing what to do. I just keep punching away, keep punching. The whole time my brother’s down on the ground and me, I’m just trying to do damage, really. I don’t care if the guy died. And so I’m just doing that and then for some reason, my arm just freezes up and I can’t choke a dude out anymore, I can’t punch him anymore and I get off. And the guy, he starts running and the cops come, they catch him, they handle the rest of the situation.”

Skeevie, 22 and a middle school football and basketball coach, was shot in the head, while Gaston was hospitalized with a bullet in his lung.

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“The hardest thing to think about was just my oldest brother just got back a year (earlier) from Afghanistan, fighting in the war,” Shelton said in his video diary. “It was just tough 'cause I’m looking at my nieces, his two daughters and I’m like, is he going to be able to make it out for them? Is he going to be able to make it out for us? Is he going to be able to be the father figure for us? And I started preparing for myself, I started thinking that if my brother didn’t make it out, I’m gonna have to be the man of the house, I’m going to have to be the father figure.”

Shelton played four seasons at Washington, where he gained a reputation as a difficult player early in his career while he was still grieving his brother’s death. He often argued with coaches, and at one point, he broke his hand punching a goal post in practice.

“I’d have to do a lot of conditioning for getting into trouble with them early in my years, and I felt like that helped me push through the emotional side of just wanting to give up and feeling like I just wasn’t the same kind of guy,” Shelton said Sunday.

Shelton, who spent the past two seasons with the New England Patriots and is expected to replace Damon Harrison as the Lions’ primary nose tackle this fall, said his brother’s death prepared him for adversity in other ways and “molded me into the type of player I am now.”

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Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton picks up NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to celebrate being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 12th pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft April 30 in Chicago.

He thrived in New England last season, setting career highs with 61 tackles and three sacks after struggling through his first three seasons with the Browns.

Off the field, he’s more stable emotionally, a change that started late in his college years with the help of his coaches at Washington, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Mara, and the responsibility that came with caring for his first dog, a pit bull named Moni. 

The Sheltons have four dogs now, all registered as emotional support animals. And last year, they welcomed their first child, a son they named Crue Skeevie Shelton, after Danny’s older brother.

“I feel like every year a new blessing comes in,” Shelton said. “Last year for me, my son was born and I was able to give him my brother’s name. … He’s been a blessing to my family and my extended family as well. He was the first boy in my family and the first grandchild in my wife’s family. It’s pretty amazing.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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