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redeyechicago.com

Tragedies connect parents

Former Bears QB Kramer reaches out to mom

Fred Mitchell

9:31 PM CST, December 6, 2012

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Michelle Ross of Oklahoma City never followed the playing career of Erik Kramer, who was the Bears' quarterback in the mid-1990s.

"I am not much of a sports person," she said.

But after coming across a Tribune story about Kramer's late son, Griffen, she now knows they share the heartbreak of losing a young man with a promising future to heroin.

Ross' 22-year-old son, Alex, died Aug. 10 of a heroin overdose and was found in a locked car in an Oklahoma City motel parking lot, according to the police crime report. Griffen Kramer, a high school quarterback who had been struggling with substance abuse, was found dead at a friend's house on Oct. 30, 2011, in Agoura Hills, Calif. He was 18.

Ross asked the Tribune to forward her contact information to Kramer, which we did on Nov. 26. That very day, the former quarterback called the grieving mom, offering comfort and counsel.

"I talked to him for about an hour," Ross said. "He was amazing … just amazing. And very sympathetic.

"He knows the situation that I'm in. I'm sad that my son is gone, and I know (Kramer) is depressed and sad. I want to do something, somehow, somewhere with the drugs (education). I don't know what yet. We talked about that, and I told him I would love to be involved."

In the last year, Kramer has sought peace of mind while mourning the death of Griffen. He decided to leave the NFL TV analysts jobs he had, including working Bears preseason games.

"I have just sort of started piecing life together myself," Kramer said. "There was a grief-support group that I went to for several months. That was a great program. It just takes a while, and you have to go through the grieving process. If you try to distract yourself with a lot, it's really tough.

"I was going through a divorce, which is now final. My mother passed away in July. So I have really centered on my surviving son, Dillon, and trying to help him just keep moving.

"He is grieving at the same time. And dealing with the loss of his brother, a divorce, a (deceased) grandmother … so I am just spending a lot of time with him."

On Oct. 29, 2011, Griffen met friend David Nernberg at Sumac Park in Agoura Hills, police said. They drove to a nearby cul de sac, where Kramer allegedly injected heroin, then became ill and unconscious.

Nernberg then allegedly dragged Kramer into his car and drove around, calling friends, asking if he could take Kramer to their houses. Nobody agreed.

Nernberg then drove to his own house and dragged the unconscious Kramer to his bedroom, authorities said. The next morning, when Nernberg woke up, Kramer was still unresponsive, and Nernberg called 911. By then, sheriff's officials said, Kramer probably had been dead for hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"It's the same scenario that happened to my son," Ross said. "My son had a drug problem, and he used heroin. He was with two people, and they left him to die pretty much. We still don't know the story and if he was moved and all of that. I just felt drawn to talk to Erik.

"I saw that three people were actually punished in a way for his son's death. Not convicted, but punished. They had community service and probation. Our situations were pretty much the same, except in my situation, the two people that are involved are pleading the Fifth.

"One person involved is extremely wealthy and (has) two investigators. They offered to pay for the other person's attorney. They declined and got their own attorney.

"I am just kind of at a standstill. This case, I mean, is closed. … My son chose to do the drugs as his did. They just chose to be with the wrong people."

Kramer has advised Ross not to be consumed with seeking punishment for those who might have been negligent when her son died.

"I sort of removed myself from feeling like justice needed to be served," Kramer said. "It was almost like instinctive. It was almost like running away. It was like I had no feeling that anybody needed to be punished. Because the people involved were not criminal, they were just incapable. No punishment was going to make them capable.

"That's kind of how I resolved Griffen's situation. The boy that was with Griffen wound up getting five years' probation. He pleaded no-contest, which is another way of saying 'guilty.' He also had to do some community service, and he can't be around any people involved in drugs. But at the end of the day, none of that is going to bring Griffen back."

Michelle Ross and her husband, Jerry, were proud of Alex as a model student and athlete at Midwest City High School before drugs consumed him.

"He was the valedictorian (in 2008), he wrestled, he played golf," she said. "He had a scholarship to a college. He never did anything (wrong) ever in high school. The second year of college, he broke up with his girlfriend and he was depressed. Somebody offered him oxycontin, and that made him feel OK and made him feel the way he needed to feel. Then it was downhill. It was a 2½-year struggle."

More than 800 people attended Alex's funeral in Midwest City.

"When I talked to Erik, he said: 'This was just three months (ago), I am surprised you can talk about this so well and you don't cry.' Part of me is at peace because he is no longer suffering. And as a mother, I am at peace because I don't have to worry every day where he's at, what he's doing, if he's going to come home. ...

"(Erik) tried to talk to me about letting go and forgiving. And I am really not mad at anybody. I don't have a lot of anger. I just want someone to be accountable for what happened.

"It was amazing that he took the time to make the phone call. And then took the time to talk to me for so long. You would think that somebody of his caliber of a person …I mean, I'm just your regular, average person."

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter@kicker34