Neighbors in Florida: 'No One Would Have Expected Trouble'

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PALMETTO BAY, Fla., Nov. 26 -- Sean Taylor may be a brash, young NFL star, but neither the house in which he lives nor what his neighbors say they've seen of the 24-year-old befits his reputation.

In a Miami suburb where lavish orange-painted Mediterranean-style mansions on the bay are a nouveau riche hallmark, Taylor's home is a relatively modest 1970s ranch on a busy street.

And while he may be known as one of the fiercest hitters in the NFL, neighbors describe the Washington Redskins safety as a quiet, polite young man whom they have sometimes seen walking in the neighborhood with his fiancee and their 18-month-old daughter, Jackie.

"He was nothing but a gentleman with us," said one woman, a retiree who, like others interviewed, declined to give a name. "He would sometimes talk over the fence with us, and it was always, 'Yes, ma'am, no ma'am, yes sir.' "

The news that he had been shot at his home early Monday morning came as a shock to many here in the quiet, affluent neighborhood.

But as police investigators ran yellow crime-scene tape around the front of his home and television crews set up across the street, the scene also recalled for many who have followed his career the enigma Taylor has presented.

While friends and teammates have described Taylor as a good-natured, family-oriented man who contributed to local charities, trouble has often followed him as well. And shortly before 1:45 Monday morning, when his fiancee called to say he'd been shot, it followed him to this peaceful suburb miles from Miami's glitziest locales.

"No one would have expected trouble over there," said another of his neighbors. "When he was in town, we'd see him and his wife -- or whoever she was -- walking with the baby. He was just nice, friendly."

The son of the police chief in nearby Florida City, Fla., Taylor grew up in the area and starred for a local prep school and then the University of Miami.

He was the fifth pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft.

Taylor bought the house in June 2005, paying $900,000 for a home the assessor says has a market value of $729,000.

Less than a year before, Taylor purchased a house in Ashburn, near the Redskins' training facility, for $529,000, according to property records. But Taylor has continued to live primarily in suburban Miami, near family -- he is the second of four children -- and lifelong friends.

His mother, Donna Junor, 46, listed the home as her address on a police report.

The one-story, four-bedroom residence here is large -- about 3,700 square feet, with four baths. It sits behind several palm trees and a white masonry wall about six feet high. Two black-painted metal gates control entry to the curving drive. A screened-in swimming pool is in the back.

Once he moved in, Taylor built a fence so that he could keep dogs -- pit bulls. Sometimes the dogs would burrow under the fence, the neighbors said. Eventually, Taylor no longer kept the pit bulls at the house, although, neighbors said, they might have foiled the intruder.

A first sign of trouble at the home came more than a week ago. On Nov. 18, Taylor's mother reported a burglary at the home. The police report said a burglar apparently entered the home by prying open a window, then rifled through drawers and a safe in Taylor's bedroom. The intruder also left a kitchen knife on the bed in another bedroom occupied by Sasha Johnson, identified on the report as Taylor's sister.

About noon on Monday, police investigators appeared to be taking fingerprints from the top side of the wall in the front of the home.

"I didn't hear any shots, but I woke up just about the time of the shooting," a neighbor who lives on a nearby street said as she was pulling out of her driveway to pick up her son from school. "My dog began barking. At the time I didn't think much about it. But the wavelengths were out there. Something was wrong."

Staff reseacher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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