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Thousands pack arena in Florida to pay tribute to Sean Taylor

MIAMI -- The little girl entered the big gymnasium in a
stroller, asleep and oblivious to the 3,000 people on hand to pay
last respects to her father, Sean Taylor.

Later, 18-month-old Jackie Taylor was wide awake and running
wind sprints past the huge flower arrangements in front of the
stage. Wearing a red dress, she stood and applauded with the rest
of the audience following the introduction of her father's team,
the Washington Redskins. She waved a milk bottle, sucked on a
pacifier and went up and down the front row hugging grieving
relatives.

There were plenty of tears at Taylor's three-hour funeral
Monday, 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
young men have been charged with unpremeditated murder. A lawyer
for one suspect said a fifth suspect was being sought.

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

"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 funeral sought closure through prayers, tributes and gospel
music. One singer expended so much emotion she collapsed into a
chair upon leaving the stage and was carried away in it as the
service continued.

Eulogies by family, friends and dignitaries praised Taylor's
baby face, shy smile, kindness, warmth, faith and extraordinary
athletic skills.

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

Michael Outar recalled the start of his nephew's football career
as a 6-year-old with the Homestead Hurricanes. Young Sean was
assigned No. 66 and a place on the defensive line.

"He asked me, 'Uncle Michael, what do I do?' I told him, 'Hit
the guy with the ball.' That's what he did, over and over," Outar
said.

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

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 actor Andy Garcia, whose niece, Jackie
Garcia, was Taylor's girlfriend and the mother of their child; and
O.J. Simpson, whose children attended the same high school as
Taylor.

Simpson expressed sympathy for the relatives of those arrested,
as well as for Taylor.

"It's horrible, not only for him, but for those other four
families," Simpson said. "There are four other lives that are
gone."

Videotaped tributes on large screens showed a sequence of
bone-crunching hits and broken-field runs by Taylor with the
Redskins, Hurricanes and Gulliver Preparatory in Miami. The final
tribute closed with the words "We will miss you Sean" over a
photo of him leaping across the goal line after an interception.

The Redskins organization filled an entire section of seats,
with even their mascot present. The team flew down in a charter one
day after an emotional 17-16 loss to Buffalo, and they play again
Thursday.

"Despite what happened yesterday, it doesn't matter now,"
defensive end Andre Carter said after the funeral. "We were happy
to be here and be part of the service and to pay our respects."

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.

On the other side of the state, in Fort Myers, the four young
men charged in Taylor's death sat in jail cells. Ed Griffith, a
spokesman for the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, said
they could be in court as early as Tuesday morning.

Accused are Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason
Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20, who face charges of
unpremeditated murder, armed burglary and home invasion with a
firearm or another deadly weapon.