COLUMBIA — The mother of former South Carolina standout Kenny McKinley’s 1-year-old son says she never suspected the Denver Broncos receiver would take his own life.
Shayla Lites said she spoke with McKinley last week because their son Keon was going to visit his father in Denver.
The body of South Carolina’s career leader in catches and yards receiving was found Monday near Denver. Authorities think McKinley committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. A report says an investigator learned the second-year pro who played sparingly as a rookie had been depressed over a recent knee surgery.
She knew McKinley was bothered that a second knee operation would keep him from playing for the Broncos this season. “But it’s not anything he hadn’t felt and overcome before,” Lites told The Associated Press by phone Thursday.
McKinley visited the state two weeks ago, bringing Keon with him to South Carolina’s 17-6 victory over Georgia on Sept. 11.
Lites thought having Keon in Denver with him would take his mind of the injury. “Kenny always enjoyed being with Keon,” Lites said.
Lites, 25, is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and is currently studying pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She says she hasn’t spoken with Colorado authorities about McKinley’s death.
“I just hope they finish the investigation soon,” Lites said. “They owe it to Kenny and to Keon.”
McKinley had 207 receptions for 2,781 yards at South Carolina, where he was known for his upbeat manner and infectious smile. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier called him one of his all-time favorite players and grew emotional Monday night after learning of McKinley’s death.
The team had a more spirited practice Wednesday, although McKinley remained on their minds.
“We all loved Kenny and we’re going to miss him a lot. But we’re going to have go out there and play this game for him,” Gamecocks tight end Patrick DiMarco said.
Lites says she’s grateful for people who have told her of their fond memories of McKinley and for the NFL Players Association plans for a trust fund for her son.
The Gamecocks will honor McKinley by wearing a decal of his No. 11 on their helmets when they play at Auburn on Saturday night. Lites said she and Keon will attend McKinley’s funeral Monday in Austell, Ga.
“It just seems pretty crazy right now,” she said.
Lites she was attracted to McKinley’s personality, much like most of his coaches, teammates and fans. Keon has a similar smile and attitude, his mother said.
Keon doesn’t understand the tragedy unfolding around him, Lites said. She’s already thought about what she might tell her son when he begins asking about his father.
“I guess I’ll try and talk about Kenny’s life and not the end,” she said.