Thousands say goodbye at `a celebration of life'

Remembering Sean Taylor

December 04, 2007|By Shandel Richardson

MIAMI -- She spent most of the ceremony running back and forth in front of the casket, wreaths and flowers.

Wearing a crimson and white dress with shiny black shoes, 18-month-old Jacqueline Garcia treated the gym floor yesterday at Pharmed Arena as if it were a playground. She was unaware of why thousands gathered here to tell some of their favorite memories about her father, Sean Taylor.

Those stories will have to be retold one day to her because she has little recollection of a parent she barely got to know. Family, friends, teammates and fans said their final goodbyes during Taylor's funeral on the Florida International campus. He was 24.

"I will make sure she knows the man her father was," said Carolina Garcia, Jacqueline's aunt.

Taylor, who played for the Washington Redskins, died last Tuesday, a day after being shot in an apparent robbery attempt at his Palmetto Bay home. As a football player, he had received dozens of standing ovations throughout his career, from leading Miami Gulliver Prep to a state title to helping the Miami Hurricanes win a national championship to being the fifth overall draft pick by Redskins.

But none compared to when the audience celebrated him one final time. At the urging of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the crowd rose to its feet to clap and scream to honor the person his family believes sacrificed his life for his family.

As the intruders approached his bedroom, he told his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, to hide with their daughter. Taylor was shot in the thigh, the bullet hitting the femoral artery. He died less than 24 hours later from massive blood loss.

"You can't take your friends, family and your loved ones for granted," former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "Today, my heart is broken."

Like most, Arrington struggled to make it through his speech. His sister, Jazmin, was teary throughout a poem written to Taylor.

Still, as Jackson told the audience, this day was "a celebration of life."

Taylor's father, Pedro, hugged each speaker who left the podium during the three-hour ceremony.

"A senseless loss of life is becoming all too common in society," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "What [Taylor] was becoming as a man made an impact on all of us."

Shandel Richardson writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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