MIAMI -- Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor died early Tuesday after he was shot in his home by an apparent intruder, leaving the Washington Redskins in mourning for a teammate who seemed to have reordered his life since becoming a father.
In a statement released by the Redskins Tuesday morning, owner Daniel Snyder said, "This is the worst imaginable tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sean's family."
The 24-year-old player died at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he had been airlifted after the shooting early Monday, family friend Richard Sharpstein said. Sharpstein said Taylor's father informed him of the death at about 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."
A string of mourners, including Taylor's father, visited the player's home and embraced outside. Authorities entered the home, but it was unclear what they were doing.
Redskins teammate Clinton Portis also played with Taylor at the University of Miami. He had sensed a new maturity in his close friend.
"It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight," Portis said. "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."
Two bouquets were left by a palm tree outside a front gate of the home. Beside the mailbox, an untouched newspaper lay with news of Taylor's shooting. One bouquet was left by Luis H. Perez, who said he played football with Taylor in high school. "He never do anything to nobody, so it's a loss," Perez said.
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.
"The entire NFL is deeply saddened by the death of Sean Taylor," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Sean's family, friends, teammates, and the Redskins' organization. This is a terrible tragedy involving the loss of a young man who leaves behind many people struggling to understand it. Our office is staying in close contact with the Redskins to provide all appropriate support to the club and Sean's family. We also are working to determine the facts surrounding this tragic event. We will honor the memory of Sean Taylor at all games this weekend."
At Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., fans began a makeshift memorial by laying flowers on a field near the front entrance. Several people paid silent respects at Taylor's parking space, a reward he received as the team's defensive player of the week in a game against Philadelphia in September.
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 taken to the hospital, and 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 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."
The attack 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 was injured.
Police found signs of forced entry, but have not determined if they were caused Monday or during the previous burglary.
The shooting happened in the pale yellow house Taylor bought two years ago. In last week's break-in, police said someone pried open a front window, rifled through drawers and left a kitchen knife on a bed.
"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 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.
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 monthslong 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.
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 all-terrain 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.
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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press