'Terribly Shocking'

Kevin Mitchell
Kevin Mitchell, here seen in 2003 at a ceremony to have his number retired at his high school in Harrisburg, Pa. was working to revitalize his hometown before his death. (Family Photo)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

The last day of Kevin Mitchell's life was a Sunday, a day he and his wife Denise called family day, a lazy day to mostly hang around the house and play with the kids, 4-year-old Jonathan and 2-year-old Kayla. Denise took the children to a birthday party, Kevin worked out and got a haircut. The family ate dinner together and played outside, and Kevin insisted on reading the kids their bedtime stories and tucking them in.

Then Kevin and Denise sat and talked for a while, about the Memorial Day family reunion planned for their home in Ashburn and Kevin's long-term goal of returning to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in the revitalization of his home town. This would be hands-on work; Kevin had gone into business with a local contractor and thought he'd found his next calling, something to be as passionate about as he'd been about football over a 10-year NFL career as a linebacker that concluded with four seasons with the Washington Redskins. The Mitchells drifted off to sleep with happy, hopeful thoughts.

"It was a great day," Denise Mitchell said.

Kevin died in his sleep in the early morning hours of April 30 of what a preliminary autopsy determined to be a heart attack. He was 36. Denise Mitchell woke, saw her husband in distress, and called paramedics, who could not revive him.

Preliminary autopsy results show that sleep apnea or hypertension may have been contributing factors in his death, Denise Mitchell said as she sat in an Ashburn coffee shop last week. She is anxiously awaiting the state medical examiner's final report to see what health implications there might be for her children. She said she thinks Kevin's father suffered a heart attack and died relatively young, perhaps in his 50s, but doesn't know the details because Kevin and he were estranged.

There had been no previous incidents or medical clues, she said. Kevin had gained some weight since his playing days, but she said it was a natural weight for him because he'd always had to work to shed 10 to 15 pounds before training camp to get down to his playing weight, listed as 258 pounds in the Redskins' 2004 media guide.

"He was in good shape," Denise Mitchell said. "It's a mystery, so we're anxious to see what the actual underlying cause was to his heart attack."

Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine and former athletic trainer, said that he and a team physician went back over Mitchell's medical records and found no indication of anything that would have been a warning signal.

"It was terribly shocking," Tyer said. "It was a shock to everybody. We'd seen him a few weeks before. He lived a mile-and-a-half from the [Redskins] Park. We feel so bad about it. He was one of the good guys."

Mitchell's sudden death left many similarly shaken.

"He was just a good dude," said Redskins linebacker Lemar Marshall, a teammate of Mitchell's for two full seasons and parts of two others. "He was a friendly guy, a great family man. He loved his wife, loved his kids. I went to his funeral, and it was just such a sad experience. I talked to him about a month before his passing, and he was in good spirits. It was just very unfortunate, very shocking."

Said former Redskins linebacker Eddie Mason, a close friend: "You hear about things like that. You read about it. But you never expect it to happen to someone you know. It was devastating. I'm still recovering from it."

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