When Ezra Nehemiah Taylor was born, he was without oxygen for 10 minutes. His mother, Selena Taylor, said doctors told her he would never walk or utter a single word.
They were wrong.
“He was my miracle child,” Selena said Tuesday, remembering how she was in disbelief when he said his first word around the age of 4. Then, how she was overcome with joy when she said she realized her prayers for Ezra to walk and talk were answered.
But now, Selena finds herself waiting for a call or text from her son that won’t come.
Ezra, 26, was one of three people killed early Sunday morning outside La Familia Pub and Lounge in Des Moines, in a shooting that left three others injured, according to police. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed his identity Tuesday and said Taylor died from a gunshot wound to the head. His death was ruled a homicide.
A second victim, Antoine Matthews, 32, who died from multiple gunshot wounds, was identified by the medical examiner’s office Tuesday.
The shooting is still under investigation, and no suspects are in custody.
‘Like a bad dream’
Ezra had just gotten off his shift as an Amazon security guard and made his way to La Familia Saturday night to attend a birthday celebration, according to Selena.
The family viewed the surveillance video released by the Des Moines Police Department, which said Ezra was an innocent bystander. The family said they could see Ezra trying to break up the fight between strangers.
“All he was doing was trying to protect,” Selena said.
Ezra’s older sister, Tyresa Taylor, was the first in the family to hear about the shooting. In Atlanta at the time, she was woken by a friend who told her Ezra and other bystanders were shot outside La Familia and that Ezra was inside an ambulance.
“It was like a bad dream,” Tyresa said Tuesday.
Tyresa called her mom, who was still half asleep. Selena said she quickly started driving to La Familia, even breaking her glasses in the process, but decided to change course and head to Harborview.
Nobody knew where to find him, she said. While some family members made their way to the bar, Selena and her mother, Betty Taylor, arrived at Harborview but were not allowed in, she said.
“They didn’t even know it was Ezra. He was a John Doe, so they couldn’t tell us anything,” Selena said.
Betty left to check out Valley Medical Center while Selena waited to try to speak to detectives at the hospital. A detective told her to call the medical examiner, so she did. She provided a description of Ezra but nothing came up, she said.
His death wasn’t confirmed until the next day.
“This whole time he was dead, and we didn’t even know,” Selena said. “I didn’t get to hold my son. I didn’t get to see him.”
Shooting site previously a ‘friction point’ for violence
The owners of La Familia, in whose parking lot the altercation that led to the shootings began, said they have made extensive efforts to clean up a spot that has been a friction point for crime and violence in the past.
Its previous incarnations, a club called Players and, before that, a casino, frequently drew police. They cleaned up the parking lot — adjacent to a run-down trailer court and the Red Lion Hotel — and installed bright lighting and 16 security cameras, one of which captured the video of the incident released by police.
The video of the altercation shows co-owners Frank Gittens and John Hart and a uniformed security guard moving into the parking lot to break up a fight after one man was knocked down and some in the crowd started kicking him. At that point, Gittens said, the fight broke up and the crowd began to disperse, most walking toward an adjacent Walgreens whose parking lot is often used for overflow from the club. That’s when the shots were fired from the street, Gittens said.
“We didn’t bring trouble to this neighborhood,” Hart said. “This is Pacific Highway South. The trouble was already here, and we understood that. We came in with a mindset of change.”
The club employs four armed security guards, and patrons are searched before they enter.
“We try to keep it cool in here,” said Gittens, who said there was no indication of friction among his patrons when the bar closed at 1:50 a.m. and the patrons moved into the parking lot. “But we can only try to control the situation outside. That’s up to the police. We’re not law enforcement. We’ve put more effort into protecting this area than the city.”
“We extend our sympathy and condolences to the families,” he said.
‘He would give the shirt off his back for anybody’
When Ezra entered a room, people took notice.
“You didn’t even need to see him, you could feel him because he had this energy that just bounced off him,” Selena said. “It was warm.”
Ezra, born and raised in Renton, spent a lot of his youth in and out of hospitals receiving physical, speech and occupational therapy until the end of his elementary schooling. And because his immune system was weak, he had to receive Gamma Globulin transfusions every three weeks until he was in high school, Selena said.
“He never complained, even as a child,” said Ezra’s grandmother Betty.
He went on to participate in sports — namely track and football — and his high school graduation was a monumental achievement for the whole family.
Selena raised Ezra and Tyresa as a single mom. But Ezra never made it hard, she said. The siblings grew up close and Ezra had so much love for his older sister, always wanting to follow in her footsteps and do what she was doing,
While children typically bounce back and forth between what they want to be when they grow up, that wasn’t the case for Ezra. He always had a clear picture of where he was going, Selena said.
Ezra wanted to be an actor, and so a few years ago, Selena traveled with him to Los Angeles so he could meet actors and learn how to make his dream come true. He began attending New York Film Academy in L.A. at 19.
Ezra completed his first acting role for a movie titled “It Takes Talent” this year, Selena said. The family plans to show the trailer at his funeral service but will hold a memorial service, which is open to the public at 6 p.m. Saturday at La Familia located on 22855 Pacific Highway in Des Moines.
Though Ezra used to be quiet, even shy, he never had a problem speaking his mind or offering up his help. Ezra took the time to help people before he even helped himself, Selena said.
“You could just feel the love coming off him,” Selena said. “He would give the shirt off his back for anybody.”