MIAMI – Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor died Tuesday after he was shot in his home by an apparent intruder, leaving the Washington Redskins in mourning for a teammate who seemed to have reordered his life since becoming a father.
The 24-year-old player died at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he had been airlifted after the shooting early Monday.
“It is with deep regret that a young man had to come to his end so soon,” father Pedro Taylor said in a statement on behalf of the family. “Many of his fans loved him because the way he played football. Many of his opponents feared him the way he approached the game. Others misunderstood him, many appreciated him and his family loved him.”
A string of mourners, including Taylor’s father, visited the player’s home and embraced outside. Authorities entered the home, but it was unclear what they were doing.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will honor Taylor’s memory at all games this weekend.
“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,” Goodell said.
Taylor’s No. 21 will be painted in a grass parking area leading into Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. In addition, No. 21 will also be painted in front of the Redskins Hall of Fame store.
Fans already began a makeshift memorial by laying flowers on a field near the front entrance to the practice facility. Several people paid respects at Taylor’s parking space.
“This is the worst imaginable tragedy,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sean’s family.”
Redskins teammate Clinton Portis also played with Taylor at the University of Miami. He had sensed a new maturity in his close friend.
“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.”
Two bouquets were left by a palm tree outside a front gate of the home. Beside the mailbox, an untouched newspaper lay with news of Taylor’s shooting.
Taylor’s death comes nearly a year after Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting following an argument at a Denver nightclub on Jan. 1. University of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot to death in November 2006 several miles from Taylor’s home in an unsolved killing.
Doctors had been encouraged late Monday when Taylor squeezed a nurse’s hand, according to Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins’ vice president of football operations. But family friend Richard Sharpstein said he was told Taylor never regained consciousness after being taken to the hospital, and he wasn’t sure how he had squeezed the nurse’s hand. He said Taylor’s father told him the death occurred about 5:30 a.m.
“Maybe he was trying to say goodbye or something,” Sharpstein said.
Taylor, the fifth overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft following an All-American season at Miami, was shot early Monday in the upper leg, damaging the key femoral artery and causing significant blood loss.
“According to a preliminary investigation, it appears that the victim was shot inside the home by an intruder,” Miami-Dade County police said in a statement. “We do not have a subject description at this time.”
The attack came just eight days after an intruder was reported at Taylor’s home. Officers were sent to the home about 1:45 a.m. Monday after Taylor’s girlfriend called 911.
Sharpstein said Taylor’s girlfriend told him the couple was awakened by loud noises, and 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. Taylor’s 1-year-old daughter, Jackie, was also in the house, but neither she nor Taylor’s girlfriend was injured.
Police found signs of forced entry, but have not determined whether they were caused Monday or during the previous burglary.
The shooting happened in the pale yellow house Taylor bought two years ago. In last week’s break-in, police said someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
Taylor starred as a running back and defensive back at Gulliver Prep in Miami. His father is police chief of Florida City.
“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.”
A private man with a small inner circle, Taylor rarely granted interviews. But, behind the scenes, Taylor was described as personable and smart.
After Taylor was drafted, problems soon began. He was involved in several off-the-field incidents, including brandishing a gun during a fight over allegedly stolen vehicles in 2005. The case was eventually settled and Taylor was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.
Taylor said the end of the assault case was like “a gray cloud” being lifted. It was also around the time that his daughter was born, and teammates noticed a change.
On the field, Taylor’s play was often erratic. Assistant coach Gregg Williams frequently called Taylor the best athlete he’d ever coached, but nearly every big play was mitigated by a blown assignment. Taylor led the NFL in missed tackles in 2006 yet made the Pro Bowl because of his reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the league.
This year, however, Taylor was allowed to play a true free safety position, using his speed and power to chase down passes and crush would-be 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.
“I just take this job very seriously,” Taylor said in a rare group interview during training camp. “It’s almost like, you play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom. And if you don’t take it serious enough, eventually one day you’re going to say, ‘Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.’
“So I just say, ‘I’m healthy right now, I’m going into my fourth year, and why not do the best that I can?’ And that’s whatever it is, whether it’s eating right or training myself right, whether it’s studying harder, whatever I can do to better myself.”