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Tipton’s father: Son was ‘definitely safe’ gun owner

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Zurlon Tipton Sr. called the gunshot that killed his son a fluke, an accident — even God’s will — but insisted his son was a “definitely safe” gun owner.

But he can’t help thinking the former Central Michigan University and Indianapolis Colts running back, Zurlon Tipton Jr., would still be alive if he had never bought a gun in the first place.

“When he first got it I said ‘You don’t need no gun,’ ” Tipton Sr. said during an exclusive interview with The Detroit News. “Everyone knew I was against it.”

Tipton Jr., 26, died Tuesday of an accidental gunshot wound to the abdomen. A .45-caliber pistol he had in a duffel bag on the passenger seat of his vehicle discharged when he reached inside the bag at Mike Riehl’s Roseville Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Dealership.

Ex-CMU RB Tipton accidentally shoots himself, dies

Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said Wednesday two pistols were recovered from Tipton Jr.’s vehicle. The gun went off because something inside the bag nudged the trigger, Berlin said.

The pistol did not have an external safety switch, he added.

Tipton Jr. legally owned the guns, which were registered, Berlin said. He also had a concealed weapons permit.

The pistol had a bullet in the chamber, which, according to Tipton Sr., is how his son always carried his pistols.

“I can’t say I told you so,” Tipton Sr. said. “It’s a fluke. ... It’s God’s call. No one can question that. ... He wanted him to come home, and that’s it. That’s the bottom line.”

Tipton Jr., who lived in Indianapolis, was supposed to meet his father Tuesday afternoon. The Detroit native came to his father’s house whenever he had a day off, Tipton Sr. said.

“We would just get us some beer, stab some meat on the grill and just hang,” Tipton Sr. said. “That’s what we did in this family.”

But “it never happened. ... When I got (to the hospital) he was gone.”

“It’s rough,” he said.

Dad recalls TD celebration

The 46-year-old father of four sobbed while reminiscing about a football game his son played in while attending Parkway Christian in Sterling Heights.

After scoring three touchdowns to win the game, the tough-to-tackle running back ran and jumped into his father’s arms to celebrate.

“I still remember that,” Tipton Sr. said.

He traveled all over the country to watch his son play football, and he’s been to every Colts home game since they signed his son in 2014.

The boy family members called “flea” and “doe” because of his small stature had grown to accomplish what only a small fraction of people do.

“I was so happy, you know,” Tipton Sr. said. “It’s not often someone makes it to the NFL.

“He did something that hundreds of millions of others couldn’t do.”

But the professional running back listed at 220 pounds wasn’t a match for his father, who once played outside linebacker at Northern Senior High School on Detroit’s east side, Tipton Sr. said, chuckling.

“I always told him, I said ‘I would’ve punished you,’ ” Tipton Sr. said. “And he said ‘Nah, I would’ve run you over.’ That was always a little thing we had.”

And Tipton Jr.’s 5-year-old brother, Marquis, loved telling people his brother played for the Colts.

That’s gone now.

‘No words’ when he got call

Tipton Sr. got the call at work. He couldn’t hear his daughter at first. He thought she was calling to tell him his son had shot someone else.

He went into an office.

“Then I could hear plain as day. ... When she told me what happened, I had no words.”

Tuesday’s fatal incident was not the first time Tipton Jr. had accidentally fired a weapon, his dad said.

Early Christmas morning Tipton Jr. was arrested for firing a gun outside his girlfriend’s home in the Indianapolis area, according to police. The Indianapolis Star reported Tipton was charged with criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon.

Tipton Jr. told his father he didn’t mean to fire the AR-15 assault weapon. Tipton Jr. felt he was protecting his girlfriend after he received threatening texts from the woman’s ex-boyfriend.

The gun went off by accident, Tipton Sr. said.

Tipton Jr. owned guns for protection. His father said his son took the proper classes, had proper licenses and went to the gun range often to practice shooting.

“He said he (needed a gun), he’s grown, and he got it,” his father said.

But despite two accidental discharges, one that killed him, Tipton Sr. said his son was a responsible gun owner.

It’s horrible, he said, but he doesn’t want people to judge his son based on this accident.

“If you knew him, you loved him,” his father said. “For those that didn’t know him, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

“I’m angry,” Tipton Sr. said. “But I say it again: It’s the Lord’s call.”

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2359

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau