I was at the funeral yesterday, among the flock of reporters sitting in the upper level of FIU's Pharmed Arena to see the world pay its last respects to Sean Taylor. I sat through the service, saw the images up on the projection screens and sucked in the deep level of sadness that place was emmiting.
I'm not much for shedding tears. But listening to Sean's family and friends talk about him made my eyes swell up. I had to walk out right after his girlfriend's sister delivered her speech, thanking Taylor for loving her sister the way he did and for giving the family the most precious gift in the world -- their 18-month old daughter.
Yesterday, was a tough day for me, but nowhere near as tough as it was for the people who really knew Sean. I didn't know Sean Taylor the way I got to know many other local high school athletes. He was about a year before my time as the high school writer for this paper. But over the years, I got know his family. His cousins Emory Williams and Anthony Leon were very good high school football players in their own right at Gulliver Prep. His father, Pete Taylor, was still very much a supporter of Gulliver even after Sean left. I got to know them all at Gulliver and even better the day Taylor was drafted by the Redskins. I was there the moment his name was called and his family rejoiced. Seeing them go through some unbelievable anguish was heart-wrenching.
The courage Pete showed everytime he dealt was the media was amazing to me. How could a man who lost his son be so strong? How could answer each and every question thrown his way? The truth was, Pete Taylor really wasn't OK. Pete Taylor was dying inside everytime he had to talk about Sean. When I drove down his house last Thursday, I sent him a text message to let him know I was on my way. I wanted him to know among with the throng of media who were parked on his neighbors lawn, hoping to pick at the one scab he wanted left alone, he had a friend. When he came out and spoke, I shook his hand and told him he was doing a great job. He spoke, then vanished into his house behind police. About 15 minutes later, he came out and gave ESPN and The Miami Herald 10 more minutes of his time. He didn't have to. But he did because of how much he loved Sean, because of how much he wanted his son to be remembered not for those run-ins with the law but for the good kid he raised. When I left his home, he sent me a text message: "I'm trying to do my best. I'm grateful for everything. U take care and may god continue to bless u."
Pete Taylor didn't need to do any of that. But that's the type of person he is. The type of father he wanted to be for Sean and the type of person he hoped Sean would become. As a former wrestler at Southridge High, he knew the strength of sports and how it kept young men on the straight and narrow. He will never say this publicly, but he was always worried about Sean. His family and close friends will tell you so. It was natural. As a police chief in Florida City and a guy who grew up near Goulds, Pete saw many young lives go awry. He always worried Sean might befriend the wrong people and it might come back to haunt him.
Sean Taylor grew up in two houses -- the stern, disciplined one his father the police chief had and the little less stern his mother had. There were different elements in and around both homes, one was a little further away from trouble than the other. Sean, I've been told, embraced both environments. Pete, the police chief, always warned his son to stay clear of the shady elements where his mother lived. And for the most part he did. From what I've been told, he basically shut that part out of his life after his daughter was born. He became more deeply connected with his NFL bretheren and the guys he met at the Pro Bowl and spent more and more time with his family and young child. The problem was those bad elements already knew where he lived and knew he wasn't home much. According to investigators, one of the four men arrested for this crime admitted to being at Taylor's home for a birthday party this summer.
Pete Taylor told me he found out his son's house had been broken into a week before Sean Taylor came home. Pete told me he warned Sean on Thanksgiving, the last time they spoke, not to come home. He told him if he did, to let him know when he was coming. "I would have made sure the place was secure if I knew he was coming," Pete Taylor told me. "But I didn't know he was coming back." Pete found out his son was home after he had been shot in the leg. Sean Taylor died a day later. The four men under arrest for it claim they didn't know anyone was going to be home. The sad part is, had Sean known it was going to be his last moment on earth, he likely would have obliged and handed over some money to these young burglars. It was always Taylor's nature according to his uncle Anthony Leon to help those less fortunate around him. But now, Sean Taylor is gone. The young 24-year old who was starting to grow up and be the dependable father, the loving boyfriend, the big brother and wonderful son is gone. And it is a tragedy. Nothing else. Sean Taylor was simply the victim here and nothing else.
Taylor's family will survive this misery. His daughter and longtime will be financially stable, well taken care of by a wealthy family. But they'll never be able to replace his smile, his love, his hugs, his personality.
Yesterday, I kept thinking about Bryan Pata and his family and how different the situation is for them. Taylor's family has the knowledge that his killers have already been arrested. It's been 13 months for the Pata family and there are still no answers. I can't imagine the pain they are feeling. All I will continue to do is hope justice is served quickly, that Bryan Pata can rest in peace the way Sean Taylor is today.