He struggled with ‘demons of addiction’ before he was found dead in a Coast jail, relative says

This combination of family photos shows Gene Danley in different stages of his life along with one of his drawings.
This combination of family photos shows Gene Danley in different stages of his life along with one of his drawings. Courtesy Dina Sumrall Brosh

A video at the Jackson County jail shows Gene Danley Jr. made a phone call less than 20 minutes before he was found dead in his cell, a relative said.

His mother missed a call from him while she was at work and couldn’t answer her phone, said Dina Sumrall Brosh, Danley’s aunt.

“The guilt is overwhelming for her,” Brosh said.

“He never hung up the receiver. He just left it dangling and walked back to his cell.”

Danley was found hanging in his cell the night of Dec. 28, 2018. His death is being investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney’s office.

His aunt says alcohol and meth led to his demise.

He grieved the toll that addiction had taken on his life, she said. His failures tormented him. It was hard to get a job as a felon. And he certainly didn’t want to spend more time in prison.

“He was a very bright young man with a troubled soul,” Brosh said.

“He had a family that loved him dearly and we all tried to help but addiction’s hold was stronger.”

Danley, 35, was being held before his transfer to a state prison on a probation violation after his arrest in Pascagoula on misdemeanor charges. Pascagoula police had arrested him Nov. 12 on charges of public drunk and giving false identifying information.

He had been convicted of aggravated assault three years ago after an incident with his live-in girlfriend. The woman wanted to drop the charge, Brosh said, but prosecutors wanted a conviction.

A judge sentenced him to three years in prison and 12 years of probation on May 26, 2016, said Grace Fisher of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Danley was paroled Dec. 7, 2016, and released to probation on July 9, 2018.

Where his life began

His family called him “Lil Gene” because he was his father’s namesake.

“Lil Gene was very loved as a child as my sister, since she was young, always prayed to be a mother,” Brosh said. Danley was the first grandchild in the family and “was the apple of his granddad’s eye.”

Danley grew up on a family farm in the Latimer community. He did farm work with his father, and his younger brother Chase.

He was the son of Robert G. Danley Sr. and Tina Danley.

The younger Danley began having addiction problems in high school and dropped out. His addiction grew stronger with the deaths of family members, Brosh said.

“He became the victim of the demons of addiction and struggled to overcome its hold on him,” Bosh said.

His father died in 2014 at the age of 59 after getting a pacemaker.

Danley was arrested on the assault charge a few weeks later.

His grandmother died the next year, but Danley couldn’t mourn with his family because he was in prison.

Danley drew pictures, one of his favorite pastimes, to pass the time. He was a talented artist, a good mechanic and could fix anything, Brosh said.

He was attacked while behind bars, and that took a toll on him as well, his aunt said.

Danley came out of prison to probation. He had drawn close to God while incarcerated.

“We had high hopes that he was going to come back out as his old self,” Brosh said.

He worked odd jobs and went to church.

Then his grandfather died in March.

‘He was drifting’

“He did well for a while but that demon still lingered inside,” his aunt said. “He had a family that loved him dearly and we all tried to help but addiction was stronger.”

In September 2018, two months before Pascagoula police arrested him, Brosh met with him, giving him $60 and some supplies.

“He was drifting from place to place,” she said.

He promised he would pay her back, “even though he knew I never expected to be paid back, that it was totally out of love. He had a huge heart and knew that he needed help.”

Danley had married earlier in life but had no children.

He had made a list of his goals — Pay off restitution and small personal debts. Buy a Bible. Find a clinic offering help with addiction and mental health help. Find a gym and a personal trainer. Get a DNA test to find his heritage and build a family tree. And get a license to become a truck driver.

He wanted to show the world that his life had value, his aunt said.

His family is loathe to believe he took his own life. They’re waiting on the results of the death investigation.

His remains were cremated Friday. A private ceremony will be held later, laying him to rest next to his father.

Brosh has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for his end-of-life expenses.

“He deserves a proper burial,” she wrote on a GoFundMe page named “Robert Gene Danley Jr. Funeral.”

“Wrong life choices do not take away the fact that he was my sister’s first born son, our nephew, a grandchild, a brother, a cousin, an uncle and friend.”