Taylor dies after being shot at home

Updated: November 28, 2007, 12:04 PM ET
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's eyes were red. His voice cracked and was barely audible. Next to him sat coach Joe Gibbs, barely more composed.

Safety Sean Taylor 's violent death had left his team in tears and a league in mourning.

"This is a terrible, terrible tragedy," Snyder said.

Taylor died early Tuesday of a gunshot wound from an apparent intruder, a tragic end for a 24-year-old whose life was transformed by the birth of a daughter 18 months ago.

"We're going to miss him," Gibbs said. "I'm not talking about as a player. I'm talking about as a person."

A day earlier, Taylor and his girlfriend were awakened by loud noises, according to family friend Richard Sharpstein, who learned the details from Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia. He said Taylor grabbed a machete he keeps in the bedroom for protection. Someone then broke through the bedroom door and fired two shots, one missing and one hitting Taylor, Sharpstein said. Neither Taylor's daughter, Jackie, nor Taylor's girlfriend were injured in the attack.

The bullet damaged the femoral artery in Taylor's leg, causing significant blood loss. Taylor never regained consciousness, Sharpstein said, and the news that he had squeezed a nurse's hand late Monday only proved to give false hope.

"Maybe he was trying to say goodbye or something," Sharpstein said.

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said he did not know why Taylor returned to Miami during the weekend. Taylor was not required to accompany the team to Sunday's game at Tampa Bay because of a knee injury.

[+] EnlargeSean Taylor
Rich Kane/US PresswireSean Taylor was tied for the NFC lead for interceptions with five and was known as one of the league's hardest-hitting defensive backs.

Police had no description of a possible suspect and were investigating whether the shooting was connected to a break-in at Taylor's home eight days earlier, in which police said someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.

"They're going to be looking at every angle," Miami-Dade Police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said. "They're going to be looking at every lead."

Authorities from Miami-Dade Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were in and out of Taylor's home throughout the day. Police were seen taking a computer from Taylor's home.

A stream of family and friends arrived throughout the day, including his father, Florida City police chief Pedro Taylor. Some embraced outside; most came and went without speaking to a group of several dozen reporters.

Outside Pedro Taylor's home in suburban Miami-Dade County, the front lawn was filled with friends and family members who seemed to be in good spirits. Small children ran through the yard.

Several people brought large platters of food into the house. When he arrived home, he was met with embrace after embrace by friends and family members.

"We're all hurting," Taylor said. "I mean that's my child."

Taylor spoke privately with Miami-Dade homicide detectives and expressed confidence in the police investigation, but couldn't provide additional information.

Speaking of the killer, Taylor said: "I think one day he'll come to grips with himself and say, 'You know what, it was senseless' and he'll turn himself in."

The elder Taylor said he last saw his son a few weeks ago at a football game in Washington.

"We had a wonderful time," he said. "We laughed and joked and stayed up until 3 o'clock in the morning. We did what fathers and dads do and brothers and sisters, we just enjoyed each other."

According to The Miami Herald, Garcia arrived at the father's house with her daughter but declined to speak with reporters.

Dressed in black and clutching her 18-month-old baby, Garcia pulled up to Taylor's father's house in a black Mercedes.

With her brown hair held in a ponytail with a black band, Garcia carried her baby girl into the house. She was accompanied by her sister, and her father, Rene. The baby, wearing a pink bow in her hair and pink sneakers, was asleep in her mother's arms.

Taylor's father described the relationship between Garcia and his son as close, and "a bond that can't be broken."

Taylor said his son had grasped fatherhood "with opens arms," and it was part of his evolution from childhood to adulthood. Asked if Sean ever disappointed him, Taylor said he always tried to guide him.

"We all have high expectations, but we all understand that everyone has to travel the road and there are going to be some mishaps," he said. "But guess what? That's what we're here for to steer them in the right direction."

Back in Virginia, the Redskins struggled to cope and share their loss.

"I have never dealt with this," Gibbs said. "We're going one hour at a time here."

Gibbs said he planned to have the team practice as scheduled Wednesday, following a prayer service, in preparation for Sunday's home game against the Buffalo Bills. Snyder said the Redskins will honor Taylor by wearing a patch on their jerseys and the No. 21 on their helmets. The league is expected to decide Wednesday how the league will pay tributes to Taylor at this weekend's games.

"We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Sean's family, friends, teammates, and the Redskins' organization. This is a terrible tragedy involving the loss of a young man who leaves behind many people struggling to understand it," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Our office is staying in close contact with the Redskins to provide all appropriate support to the club and Sean's family. We also are working to determine the facts surrounding this tragic event. We will honor the memory of Sean Taylor at all games this weekend."

There is little precedence on how to go forward, although several teams have dealt with tragedy in recent years. Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day, the day after the season ended in a playoff loss. San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion died of a heart attack after a preseason game in September 2005. Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died of heatstroke at a training camp practice in 2001. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jerome McDougle was shot in the stomach by three armed robbers in southwest Miami in July 2005 and missed the following season.

Gibbs, Taylor's family and his teammates, past and present, did their best to describe a player very few got to know.

"Sean has been a close friend of mine since our days at the University of Miami," New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in a statement. "He was a great teammate and an even greater person. It is so hard for me to fathom that I am not going to be able to pick up the phone to call him."

Taylor had a great smile and a menacing sneer. He was extremely talented -- fast and powerful -- and genuinely had a chance to become one of the best safeties ever to play in the NFL.

"What got cut short here was a career that was going to go to a lot of Pro Bowls and have a lot of fun," Gibbs said.

"I am devastated over the loss of Sean Taylor," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "When he was a student at the University of Miami, I got to know him as a person and as a football player. He was passionate about everything he did and was a great friend to his teammates. My thoughts are with his family."

Taylor was having the best season of his career on the field and had stayed out of trouble off the field since the birth of his daughter, Jackie, in May 2006. He was becoming a leader, and his teammates had elected him to the players' committee that meets regularly with Gibbs.

"I saw a real maturing process," Gibbs said.

He wasn't the only one to notice changes in Taylor after his daughter's birth.

"He was kind of a wild child, like myself," said New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, who played with Taylor at the University of Miami and worked out with him in the offseason. "But life changed for Sean after he had his baby girl. Fatherhood really changed him. He grew up and matured."

Redskins running back Clinton Portis agreed.

"It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight," Portis said. "But ever since he had his child, it was like a new Sean, and everybody around here knew it. He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."

Private and slow to trust anyone, Taylor rarely granted interviews. During his last known full-length interview, conducted with WTEM-AM in September, he spoke of the joy he felt when he made his daughter laugh, how he wanted to give her life experiences different from his own, and how he did not fear death.

"You can't be scared of death," he told the radio station. "When that time comes, it comes. ... You never see a person who has lived their life to the fullest. They sometimes feel sorry for like a child, maybe, that didn't get a chance to do some of the things they thought that child might have had a chance to do in life. I've been blessed. God's looked out for me, so, I'm happy."

Still, Taylor, drafted No. 5 overall by the Redskins in April 2004, got off to a rocky start in the NFL.

He had a drunken driving charge that was later dismissed. He skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium. He fired two agents. He didn't like his contract. He refused to return Gibbs' calls during the offseason. And he was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other on-field infractions.

In 2005, he was accused of pointing a gun during a fight over all-terrain vehicles near his Miami home, a legal battle that ended a year later when he pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation.

Recently, Taylor indeed was starting to make his past seem irrelevant. The baby helped him gain perspective, and other changes were making him a better football player.

Early in his career, linebacker LaVar Arrington nicknamed Taylor "The Grim Reaper." Taylor could hit as hard as anyone in the NFL, but he often went for the big impact at the expense of playing basic football. He would take wrong angles and miss tackles. Even so, he was enough of a presence to make the Pro Bowl last season.

This season, Taylor improved his diet and workout regimen and was given a new role. Instead of playing a hybrid safety position, he was a true free safety. He used speed and power to chase passes and intimidate receivers. His five interceptions tie for the league lead in the NFC, even though he missed the last two games because of a sprained knee.

"You think back to how much heat he took for everything," Portis said. "For missing camp, for not being around for this or that, for missing the rookie symposium. You come to the realization that all of that means nothing."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.