By Amy Shipley and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
MIAMI, Nov. 27 -- Miami-Dade police launched a wide-ranging homicide investigation Tuesday into the death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who died at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami early in the morning after being shot in the upper thigh while confronting an intruder in his home.
Police said they were trying to determine whether a burglary at Taylor's house just over a week ago was related to what they described as a possible home invasion Monday, and whether Taylor was a random victim or targeted by the shooter.
"We're going to look at everything," Miami-Dade police spokesman Robert Williams said.
Taylor, 24, died at 3:30 a.m. after undergoing seven hours of surgery Monday. An autopsy was performed Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman in the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department who declined to release further information.
Taylor's death left the Redskins and, it seemed, much of the Washington region reeling and heartsick. Devastated callers jammed sports-radio stations and hundreds of fans wrote emotional posts on Web sites that cover the team. About 200 tearful fans gathered at Redskins Park for the second candlelight vigil in two nights, and players and team officials choked back tears and struggled to remain composed.
The mood of mourning descended over the team's training center soon after owner Daniel Snyder received word of Taylor's death just after 5 a.m. Workers hung black bunting over the park's entry and painted Taylor's No. 21 in white with gold trim on the grass outside the front gate.
During a somber news conference, Snyder said the NFL would honor Taylor with a moment of silence at this week's games, and all players would wear a No. 21 sticker on their helmets. Redskins players, officials said, also would wear a special patch.
"Over the last two years, I got a chance to really see him grow as a man off the field," said Snyder, who had led a team contingent to Miami after the shooting. "Off the field, he became very, very important to me, our organization and Coach [Joe] Gibbs. . . . This is a terrible tragedy, and we're going to miss him very, very much."
Miami-Dade police found Taylor bleeding from a wound to his upper leg at his home after responding to an emergency call placed by his girlfriend at 1:47 a.m. Taylor had been awakened by noise in the living room and was shot at the entrance to his bedroom, according to the police and his attorney, Richard Sharpstein. He was airlifted to the hospital's trauma unit.
Miami-Dade police provided no information about suspects, held no formal news conference and released little information throughout the day, uncustomary in such a high-profile case. The police declined to release the incident report or 911 tapes, citing the ongoing investigation.
Jackson Memorial Hospital also declined to make its surgeons available or offer any information on Taylor, citing a request from Taylor's family.
Detectives said they would explore whether there could be a possible connection to a dispute between Taylor and several Miami men over his all-terrain vehicles in 2005 that led to criminal charges against Taylor, who received probation after entering a guilty plea but was later sued by one of the men.
"It's [too] early to say at this point" what happened, Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said. "Twenty-four hours in a homicide case is equivalent to 10 minutes in real time."
Taylor's father, Pedro Taylor, the police chief in nearby Florida City, said Tuesday night he spoke with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who told him she had deployed investigators to assist the police with the case.
The family, meantime, announced it had not finalized funeral arrangements. Friends said the family wanted to schedule a service that could be attended by Taylor's teammates and friends around the NFL, and were working with the league to do so with an eye on next Tuesday, a customary day off for players. The Redskins will play a rare Thursday night game at home next week.
As investigators interviewed witnesses and removed evidence, including a computer hard drive, from Taylor's residence in a tony section of suburban Miami called Palmetto Bay, Taylor's family and friends assembled at the home of Taylor's paternal grandmother, seeking support and explanations that they said were slow in coming.
Dozens of people huddled inside the small house or gathered on the small front porch and front yard as dozens of parked cars made the street nearly impassable.
"Everyone's just in the dark, waiting for some answers from investigators," family friend Steven Taylor said.
The available facts were sparse. Police said only that Taylor, his girlfriend Jackie Garcia and 18-month-old daughter, Jackie, were in the house at the time the intruder or intruders entered. Taylor had flown to Miami on Saturday night, taken a 30-mile bike ride and watched football Sunday, then gone to bed at about 8:15 p.m., a team source said. It is unclear whether Taylor had installed or turned on a security alarm system at the house -- accounts from family and friends differed.
Sharpstein said Taylor reached under his bed for a machete he kept in the bedroom after being awakened by noise in the living room. Garcia grabbed the baby from the crib in their bedroom and cowered in the bed. Taylor's father said Garcia, his son's high school sweetheart, probably could not have identified anyone in the darkness, and he added that the intruder kicked in the bedroom door before firing.
"Maybe this is a case where someone got startled," Pedro Taylor said.
Pedro Taylor said his son likely had the machete not for self-defense, but because he enjoyed gardening and yardwork. He said he did not know whether his son had been targeted by enemies, and had not received any information on the shooter from police.
"I don't know," he said. "I can't say. Everybody says Sean is a bad guy who has enemies. [But] Sean is an isolated person who stays to himself."
Pedro Taylor said he was not overly concerned about what authorities described as a burglary at his son's residence between 7 p.m. and midnight Nov. 17. No one was home when the break-in occurred. The police report said the intruder pried open a window to gain entry, rifled through drawers and left a knife on a bed. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs excused Sean Taylor from team meetings to deal with the burglary, but he later rejoined the team.
Because Taylor was rehabilitating a knee injury, he had been excused from Sunday's game in Tampa.
The police "are looking at the similarities between both incidents," Zabaleta, the police spokesman, said.
Friends speculated that Taylor died of blood loss, because he suffered a wound to his femoral artery and lost a lot of blood. Pedro Taylor said the family had been optimistic Monday night because Sean Taylor had responded to doctors' requests to squeeze their hands. At one point, Pedro Taylor and Garcia entered the waiting room with two doctors and told the estimated 100 friends and family members there that Sean Taylor had also made facial movements, all of which was considered to be a sign that he had not suffered brain damage, according to one person in the waiting room, which erupted in celebration.
But Sean Taylor never regained consciousness. Pedro Taylor said doctors told them early Tuesday morning "that something had occurred and Sean had gotten weaker."
The next update, Pedro Taylor said, was that his son had "regressed."
A little while later, Taylor said, the doctor returned "and said we just lost Sean."
Doctors "gave no explanation" for his death, a family friend said. "They said it was a minute-by-minute process because of the severity of the injury. They were very upfront from the very beginning. When they briefed the family originally, it was just that he's alive, but it will be touch and go."
Staff writers Jason La Canfora and Mark Maske and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report from Washington.