"She had a lot of life and energy about her, passion for whatever she did," he recalled.
But a mistake she made as a college student eight years ago changed everything. At just 19, Shelly died of a drug overdose. She was near help, in her dorm room, but a friend waited to call police for fear of being arrested himself.
"When he found her unresponsive, he panicked and fled the scene," said Sanders "It's definitely frustrating. I couldn't say I've never been mad at this guy, because I have, and I probably still am."
Sanders said he wonders if a law just signed in North Carolina had been in place then, Shelly's life might have been saved. It's known as the 911 Good Samaritan law, and it's being passed around the country.
"In 11 states, they have indicated just since they've passed this bill [that] over a number of several years they've already saved over a thousand lives," explained Sen. Stan Bingham (R) Denton.
There are two parts to the law.
"If someone is experiencing a drug overdose or is witnessing a drug overdose and they call 911 they can't be prosecuted for misdemeanor possession of drugs or paraphernalia or underage drinking," explained Tessie Castillo with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.
The other part makes it easier for people to get Nalaxone, a drug antidote, to keep on hand for addicts.
"It can literally bring someone who's having a near fatal overdose almost back from the dead within 30 seconds," said Castillo.
For Shelly's family, the new law is too late, but they're hopeful it will spare other families the grief they've faced.
"It has definitely helped our family, just to be able to talk about Shelly, even though we're talking about her death, being able to know that talking about her death could help somebody, is comforting in a way," said Sanders.
Last year, more than 11-hundred people in North Carolina died from drug overdoses. A growing number of those cases involve kids - some as young as 11. Many start with prescription pills taken from medicine cabinets before turning to harder street drugs.