By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007
RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Fla., Dec. 2 -- Hours after the fourth man charged with killing Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor last week was denied bond during an initial hearing in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday, thousands of Taylor's friends, family and admirers thronged to a public viewing at the Baptist church he attended as a youth.
Though some dressed in typical mourning attire, many filed past Taylor's open casket at Second Baptist Church in Redskins jerseys or newly made T-shirts emblazoned with Taylor's image and slogans of tribute as a choir provided a backdrop of joyous gospel music. Taylor was dressed in a black suit.
Taylor's closest friends and family, including his 18-month-old daughter and her mother, attended a private service before the wake, which family attorney Richard Sharpstein described as the family's funeral.
Taylor will be buried at a cemetery near here Monday after a public funeral at a 5,000-seat arena at Florida International University.
Taylor grew up in this neighborhood, played football at the University of Miami -- which held a candlelight vigil in his honor on its campus Sunday night -- and visited frequently when he was not in Washington. He died last Tuesday from apparent blood loss after being shot in his Miami home Monday while confronting intruders. Four Fort Myers men have been charged with felony murder and armed burglary in connection with this death. The three others were denied bail Saturday.
Early Sunday evening, 14-year-old cousins Jacob Grant and Nathan Segal passed through the church in Redskins jerseys bearing Taylor's name, though Grant wore the No. 36 Taylor wore during his rookie season and Segal the No. 21 Taylor had worn since. They said they had met Taylor at his house on a Thanksgiving a few years ago through a family member who had worked with his grandmother.
"He was a nice as could be," said Dennis Dara, Segal's stepfather. "He talked to the kids, took pictures with them, signed autographs. . . . He was somebody everybody could relate to. . . . It's sad, a senseless, tragic event."
A 25-year-old woman who said she attended college with Taylor flew to Miami from Washington for the public viewing and Monday's funeral. She declined to give her name. Another woman from Florida City, where Taylor's father, Pedro, is the police chief, brought three family members. All wore T-shirts with Taylor's image and references to his collegiate Hurricanes and his NFL team: "From Canes to Redskins; Sean Taylor 1983-2007." Delores Brown said she purchased them Sunday at a flea market.
Another man wore a shirt that said "In loving memory of Sean Taylor" on the front. On the back was a lengthy tribute.
"A lot of people know his family," Brown said. "A lot of people know the whole half of the family. A lot of people growed up with him, went to school with him."
An event filled with equal parts solemnity and celebration did have one hitch: The doors of the church were closed hours earlier than originally announced after a schedule change. Many people arrived late and were turned away.
Earlier in the day, Jason Scott Mitchell, 19, made his first court appearance in Fort Myers, which is about a 2 1/2 -hour drive from Miami. The other men charged in Taylor's killing -- Eric Rivera Jr., 17; Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18; and Venjah K. Hunte, 20 -- remained in Fort Myers but all were expected to be transported to Miami. Police say the men did not know Taylor was home when they attempted to burglarize his house. Taylor was shot, they said, after he surprised them.
Rivera confessed to being the shooter, Sharpstein has said. The police have said they have several confessions but have not elaborated.