`It's just a terrible tragedy'

Shooting death of Taylor shocks Redskins, fans

November 28, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

ASHBURN, Va. -- Early yesterday morning, the shocking word had spread: Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was dead from a gunshot wound.

From the Miami hospital where his son had died, Pedro Taylor had broken the news to Richard Sharpstein, the player's friend and former agent.

"His father called and said he was with Christ and he cried and thanked me," Sharpstein said. "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."

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder found out about Taylor's death from Drew Rosenhaus, the player's last agent.

"He said, `He's gone,'" Snyder recalled at a news conference yesterday afternoon.

Redskins fan Steve Richards heard the news on television yesterday morning and knew he had to tell his 5-year-old son, Alexander, that a member of their favorite NFL team had died.

"I had to tell him that he was up in heaven," Richards, a lumber salesman from Centreville, Va., said outside Redskins Park in the morning as he joined a small group of fans honoring Taylor's memory. (By 6 last night, hundreds had gathered for a candlelight vigil.) "The Redskins mean so much to this community, and this is such a heartbreaker."

Taylor's death turned a normally imperious Snyder teary-eyed when talking about the first player the team drafted after coach Joe Gibbs came out of retirement three years ago. Gibbs was more stoic as they sat together during the news conference.

"It's obviously very difficult for all of us," said Snyder, who returned from Miami after spending time at the hospital and with Taylor's family. "I just want to reiterate that our hearts, our thoughts and all of our prayers are with him. It's just a terrible tragedy. We're going to miss him very, very much."

Asked how Taylor's family is holding up, Snyder appeared close to breaking down.

"As expected, it's a shock, it's a terrible, terrible tragedy," Snyder said. "It's pretty rough."

Said Gibbs: "It's going to be a tremendous loss for us and the football team. So as we go forward, the thing that comes back to me is how fragile life is and we need to enjoy each and every day and each and every minute."

Gibbs said he had seen Taylor mature since the birth of his daughter 18 months ago and a growing religious faith.

"The greatest heart I take from this for me personally and the way I'm going to deal with this is that God tells us that it's going to take a thousand years to appreciate heaven and that our life on Earth is really a puff of smoke," Gibbs said.

The news of Taylor's death shook his teammates, especially after they had heard encouraging reports Monday night that Taylor had been responsive to a doctor's instructions after seven hours of surgery.

Quarterback Jason Campbell wished others, especially those in the media, had seen the side of Taylor that few were allowed to witness.

"I just wish everyone had the opportunity to get to know him," Campbell said. "You talk to Sean one-on-one, he's a special person. He had all the intentions to do the right things for people in the community."

The overall No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft after his junior year at Miami, Taylor had a career noted as much for his erratic behavior as his talent.

Taylor had been charged with aggravated assault with a weapon stemming from an incident outside his home in 2005, when he allegedly waved a gun at individuals whom he thought had stolen all-terrain vehicles from his property. The charges were later dropped as part of a plea agreement.

But those whom Taylor had allowed into his inner circle saw a change when his daughter was born. Taylor's fiancee and their daughter were in bed with him when the gunman barged into his bedroom early Monday morning and began shooting, according to police reports.

The Redskins plan to honor Taylor's memory by wearing a patch with his No. 21 on their jerseys and on a helmet decal that, according to Snyder, also will be worn by every NFL team Sunday. A moment of silence will be observed for all games this week.

"This is a terrible tragedy involving the loss of a young man who leaves behind many people struggling to understand it," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

Given the number of former Hurricanes players in the NFL, the news was felt by several teams, including the Ravens.

"Sean was a great player, but more importantly a special person," Ravens running back Willis McGahee, a former teammate at Miami, said in a statement released by the team. "When a senseless tragedy like this happens close to home, it really makes you think about the people in your life. This is much bigger than football; life is precious, and you are reminded of that every day. I know he is in a better place, and my prayers are with his family."

Fellow Redskins safety Reed Doughty, who had stepped in when Taylor suffered a serious knee injury in a Nov. 11 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, choked back the tears as he recalled his last conversation with Taylor before the team departed for its game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Someone wanted to know whether Doughty was crying.

"Of course," he said. "It's real."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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