Tears, Laughter At Funeral For Sean Taylor

Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 7:56 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) -- Sean Taylor's friends and family fondly recalled his baby face, devotion to family and bone-crunching tackles.

"Many times God must have looked down and said, 'Man, I made a great football player,"' Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.

Some 3,000 mourners attended Taylor's funeral Monday seeking closure through prayers, tributes and gospel music. One singer expended so much emotion she collapsed in a chair and was carried away in it as the service continued.

There were plenty of tears during the three-hour service, but also ripples of laughter and words of inspiration.

"Let me hear you scream!" shouted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, urging the audience to cheer Taylor's memory. "One more time! This is a celebration!"

The 24-year-old Taylor died last Tuesday, barely 24 hours after he was shot in the bedroom of his home a few miles from where he grew up. Police say he was a victim of a botched burglary, and four men have been charged with unpremeditated murder.

Several hours after Taylor's funeral ended three of the suspects were transported from Lee County jail to Miami-Dade County jail. Charles Wardlow, 18, Jason Mitchell, 19, and Venjah Hunte, 20, were expected to appear in court Tuesday morning, said Janelle Hall, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County jail.

The fourth suspect, Eric Rivera, 17, would be processed at a juvenile detention center in Miami-Dade County, Hall said.

"It's times like this that all of us struggle to find meaning in life," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told mourners.

Taylor helped the Miami Hurricanes win the 2001 national championship, became a first-round NFL draft pick by the Redskins in 2004 and led the NFC in interceptions this season when a knee injury sidelined him last month.

"Today my heart is broken," said LaVar Arrington, wiping away tears as he recalled his two years as Taylor's teammate with the Redskins. "I'll get through it. We'll all get through it."

The list of celebrities in attendance was long. They included more than two dozen former Hurricanes now in the NFL, among them Edgerrin James, Devin Hester and Jeremy Shockey. Former Hurricanes coaches Larry Coker and Butch Davis sat in the front row, along with current coach Randy Shannon.

Mourners also included O.J. Simpson, whose children attended the same high school as Taylor, and actor Andy Garcia, whose niece, Jackie Garcia, was Taylor's girlfriend and the mother of their 18-month-old daughter.

About 300 members of the Redskins organization attended, with even their mascot present. The Redskins flew down in a charter one day after an emotional 17-16 loss to Buffalo, and they play again Thursday against Chicago.

"I think the guys feel better after going to the funeral," linebacker London Fletcher said after the team returned to Washington. "It was a little bit of closure in a sense. It was something that we needed as a team. We're going to still carry his memory with us, so it's still a healing process we're going to go through, but this part was a necessary part of it."

Gibbs' eulogy focused on faith. He told the mourners Taylor became more spiritual as he matured after joining the team.

"His life began to change," Gibbs said. "You saw the way he loved Jackie and Jackie."

Others also spoke of Taylor's transformation following the birth of his daughter. They addressed only indirectly his earlier brushes with the law, which started with a 2001 fist fight and included most recently a 2005 confrontation involving guns.

There was pointed criticism for the way the media portrayed Taylor's past in the wake of his violent death.

"One of the things that I hope comes out of this tragedy is that the media get a small lesson in grace and humility," said Florida City mayor Otis Wallace, a friend of the Taylor family. "For those who took the liberty of recklessly speculating that this young man's death was caused by the way he lived, all I can say is they should be ashamed."

The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Rivera, Wardlow, Mitchell and Hunte all face charges of unpremeditated murder, home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon and armed burglary.

Keith Leonardo, president of Florida Christian Institute in Fort Myers, said Rivera and Wardlow are both seniors at the school, which has 190 learning-disabled students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both played on the school's flag football team, Leonardo said.