MickeyRay’s was buzzing April 26. It was a Friday evening and there was the normal waiting list to get into the popular Boise, Idaho, barbecue joint.

In the reserved banquet room in the back, the Thornton clan was gathered, about 70 strong.

It was the second night of the NFL draft and the restaurant erupted when the Indianapolis Colts selected offensive lineman Hugh Thornton 86th overall.

Family, friends, high school coaches, former wrestling and football teammates ... nearly everyone Thornton knew was there.

But he was longing to embrace the ones he couldn’t.

On Jan. 2, 2004, Thornton’s mother, Michele, and 8-year-old sister, Marley, were murdered during the night in their Jamaican home.

Hugh, 12 at the time, was asleep in another room. He heard his aunt, Rebecca, scream when she found the bodies that morning.

With the back room at MickeyRay’s roaring, when Thornton’s name flashed across the flat-screen TV, he sought out Lydia Nord, his aunt who had made the trip from Oberlin, Ohio.

He embraced his late mom’s sister and held her tight.

“As soon as I got drafted, I hugged her,” said Thornton, who lived with Nord as a senior in high school. “I wished my mom and sister were there, but I felt like my mom was proud of me.”
Remembering Michele, Marley

Since that traumatic experience nine years ago, Thornton moved at least five times — including a short stay in a foster home — clashed with his father and was arrested twice while playing at the University of Illinois.

But at the same time that coping with the murders was pushing him off the proper path, the memory of his mother kept him striving to get back on it. That has helped lead him to Colts rookie minicamp beginning Friday.

“I didn’t deal with it (when it happened),” Thornton said. “It took me a long time. It took me until college to really hit the nail on the head and deal with it. It took me getting in trouble. I have to say it took me going to jail. All the depression, the anxiety of my mom passing.

“You don’t get over it, but you learn to move on.”