Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Well Liked U of M Football Player Killed...A Campus Mourns...

Campus Mourns Slain Athlete

Taylor Bradford

Bradford carrying $7,000 winnings when killed at U of M

By Clay Bailey, Jody Callahan, Christopher Conley
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A sea of dwindling candles glowing before him, Gionni Carr remembered the last time he saw Taylor Bradford.

Just hours before the 21-year-old Bradford lost his life Sunday night, Carr looked up from a forum on race and violence at the University of Memphis Panhellenic Ballroom and saw a familiar face.

It was Bradford, no stranger to campus events, sticking his head in the door.

"It was just a head nod," said Carr, a U of M senior and head of the school's Student Government Association. "Little did I know that that would be the last time I saw him."

Hundreds of students gathered at the U of M Monday night to remember Bradford, a football player who was shot outside the Carpenter Complex housing community about 9:45 Sunday night.

Police had made no arrests late Monday, and hadn't determined a motive for the shooting. But several Memphis detectives confirmed that Bradford had won a large amount of money in Tunica County, up to $7,000, and had it with him when he was found.

"There must be a place in this world where people who want to learn can be safe," U of M President Dr. Shirley Raines said at the vigil, which also was attended by mayoral candidates Herman Morris and Carol Chumney. "We must solve this for the sake of all of us and for the sake of the family."

Senior Emily Sharpe felt compelled to attend the vigil, even though she didn't know Bradford.

"Ever since I heard, I just felt like I am a part of this school, and he was a classmate, even though I didn't know him," she said. "It's amazing how much of a connection you have to someone you never even met."

Marissa Payne, also a senior, remembers the funny and friendly side of Bradford.

"Whenever there was a function on campus, if they had food, he was there. He liked to eat," she said, smiling a little. "Whenever you saw him, if he knew you or not, he'd speak to you."

Bradford visited the Horseshoe Casino sometime over the weekend, according to Tunica sheriff's spokesman Larry Liddell.

Bradford is the first victim of a homicide at the U of M campus in recent memory.

Police were concentrating their investigation on the 45 minutes between the time he left the Panhellenic Building and when he was found in his car, crashed on the edge of campus at Central Avenue and Zach Curlin Street. He had been shot, and later died at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

Police said Bradford drove to his apartment after the safety meeting, then later drove his white, two-door Lincoln Town Coupe out of the parking lot and crashed into a tree at 9:47.

When authorities answered the traffic accident call, they found Bradford and discovered he had been shot.

The death marked the second time this weekend that a Mid-South college athlete was killed in a homicide. Rodney Lockhart, a track star at Ole Miss, was found in his off-campus apartment early Saturday.

"The investigation is in its infancy," Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said Monday afternoon. "We don't know if it was a random act, or whether the individual was targeted."

"There are a lot of rumors floating around, and we are checking them all," he said.

Detectives were going door-to-door talking to any possible witnesses.

They were also trying to determine if he was shot outside the car, then got in and drove through the gate at the student housing complex, or if he was shot while inside the car.

Apparently he had been shot once, and there were no visible bullet holes in his car.

Police were waiting for a preliminary report from the medical examiner's office that will tell them whether Bradford was sitting down or standing when shot, how close the shooter was and the angle of the shot.

At least one witness said they saw two men fleeing the shooting scene. Another said he heard what sounded like gunshots.

After leaving the Panhellenic building, Bradford went back to his apartment and was seen in the common area of the complex, police said.

Detectives are also viewing any cameras in the area and, with University of Memphis campus police, reviewing the card key gate control at Bradford's apartment. The gate requires a key to get in, but not to get out, said Bruce Harber, U of M police director.

Godwin said nothing had surfaced to indicate Bradford was involved in anything that would have put him in danger.

Bradford was 36 credit hours from graduation, Godwin said. "He seems like a good young man. ... he's just a good kid," he said.

While there have been other deaths from accidents or suicides on the campus, university officials could not remember another homicide at the university.

The death led to canceling Monday classes, not because of safety reasons, but to allow fellow students to grieve. Residence halls were closed overnight Sunday, reopening at 7 a.m. Monday.

Believing that the suspects fled the scene, university officials did not send out an immediate alert about the shooting. Instead, an e-mail was circulated from Harber to all students, faculty and staff. The message outlined the events and noted that classes were canceled. They are expected to reopen today.

Raines said she was informed shortly after the shooting and met with Bradford's parents after they drove from Nashville.

"It's devastating, of course, because these are our students. Any tragedy affecting a young person, you think about a life not lived. It's tragic," said Raines.

During the day, friends, teammates and fraternity brothers showed up at the wreck scene. A small memorial was set up with pictures of Bradford, sympathy cards and other remembrances.

Bradford was a seldom-used junior defensive lineman who transferred to the U of M from Samford in Birmingham.

The Tigers will play Marshall tonight at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, following a moment of silence before kickoff.

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