MATT SEDENSKY Associated Press Writer
MIAMI Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor died early this morning, a day after the Pro Bowl player was shot at home by what police say was an intruder. He was 24. Family friend Richard Sharpstein said Taylor's father told him the news around 5:30 a.m. "His father called and said he was with Christ and he cried and thanked me," said Sharpstein, Taylor's former lawyer. "It's a tremendously sad and unnecessary event. He was a wonderful, humble, talented young man, and had a huge life in front of him. Obviously God had other plans." Taylor died at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he had been airlifted after the shooting early Monday, Sharpstein said. Two carloads of mourners, including the athlete's father, arrived at the house Tuesday morning. They remained inside and did not speak to reporters. A single bouquet of flowers was left by a palm tree just outside a front gate. Beside the mailbox, an untouched newspaper lay with news of Taylor's shooting. 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 Sharpstein said he was told Taylor never regained consciousness after being transported to the hospital and that he wasn't sure how he had squeezed the nurse's hand. "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 the University of 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." But police were still investigating the attack, which 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 were injured. Police found signs of forced entry, but have not determined if they were caused Monday, or the previous burglary. The shooting happened in the pale yellow house he bought two years ago. Eight days before the attack someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed at Taylor's home, according to police. "They're really sifting through that incident and today's incident," Miami- Dade Detective Mario Rachid said, "to see if there's any correlation." 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. Taylor starred as a running back and defensive back at Gulliver Prep in Miami. His father, Pedro Taylor, is police chief of Florida City. A private man with a small inner circle,Taylor rarely granted interviews. But, behind the scenes, Taylor was described as personable and smart an emerging locker room leader. "From the first day I met him, from then to now, it's just like night and day," Redskins receiver James Thrash said Monday. "He's really got his head on his shoulders and has been doing really well as far as just being a man. It's been awesome to see that growth." After Taylor was drafted, problems soon began. Taylor fired his agent, then skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium, drawing a $25,000 fine. Driving home late from a party during the season, he was pulled over and charged with drunken driving. The case was dismissed in court, but by then it had become a months-long distraction for the Redskins. Taylor also was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other infractions over his first three seasons, including a $17,000 penalty for spitting in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman during a 2006 playoff game. Meanwhile, Taylor endured a yearlong legal battle after he was accused in 2005 of brandishing a gun at a man during a fight over allegedly stolen allterrain vehicles near Taylor's home. He eventually pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and 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. "It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight," said teammate and close friend Clinton Portis, who played with Taylor at Miami. "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." 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." His hard work was well-noted. "He loved football. He felt like that's what he was made to do," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "And I think what I've noticed over the last year and a half ... is he matured. I think his baby had a huge impact on him. There was a real growing up in his life."