The former Broncos wide receiver “had been suffering from seizures for over a year,” LaTonya Bonseigneur, Thomas’ cousin, said Friday.
Thomas’ death was reported late Thursday, after his body was found at his Roswell, Ga., home.
Bonseigneur — who grew up with Thomas in Montrose Ga., and considered him a sibling — said the family believes he suffered a seizure while he was showering.
“He was alone and a friend couldn’t get hold of him, so he called his driver, who has a key because of these seizures, and he went into his home and found him in the shower,” Bonseigneur said. “We’re not sure when he died. We just spoke with him (Wednesday).”
Thomas would have turned 34 on Christmas Day.
“Demaryius was a great guy,” Bonseigneur said. “He came from humble beginnings. He knew God. He was raised in the church and by a close-knit family. Even though he rose to stardom, to us he was just a kid from Montrose. We never fathomed he would go on to do all these amazing things. He was just a kid who loved playing football.”
Thomas was not married and had no children, according to Bonseigneur.
Thomas was 11 when his mother, Katina Smith, and grandmother, Minnie Pearl Thomas, were arrested on drug charges.
Smith was sentenced to 20 years in prison after she refused a lesser term in exchange for testifying against her mother, who received a life sentence. Thomas wound up living with an uncle, James Brown, after Smith went to prison.
Thomas’ mother and grandmother were later freed by President Barack Obama under an initiative to reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders serving prison sentences. Smith was released in time to watch her son win a championship in February 2016 at Super Bowl 50.
Brown died on Nov. 15 of a heart attack at age 69, and Thomas attended his funeral, according to AP.
The Georgia Tech product announced his retirement in June, after playing 11 games with the Jets in 2019 (with 10 starts).
Thomas spent eight seasons with the Broncos, the team that drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
In 143 career games, Thomas recorded 724 catches for 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns. His NFL resume includes five straight Pro Bowl honors and a Super Bowl (50) ring.
NFL players and fans have continued to share their condolences on social media.