Seeking safe passage: 13-year-old touched by violence in 1993 overcomes the odds

Byron Taylor (left) straightens the tie of Sterling Jones, 15. (Scott Strazzante/Tribune)

The Tribune explores the reverberations, many years later, of the killings of three children -- the echoes of pain, of anger and of inspiration.

Last Sunday, Byron Taylor strode down a church hallway, a tall 29-year-old with stylishly locked hair pulled back over the neck of his three-piece pinstriped suit, a whirl of speed under control.

He wove through knots of elders in long, white cassocks and little boys in imperfectly tied ties, shaking hands, opening doors and greeting everyone he knew, which was apparently everyone.

"Hey, what's going on?" "Hey, what's happening?" "Hey, beautiful," to an elderly woman who shot back, "Hey, good-looking."

He was the very picture of an intelligent, accomplished, respected and loved young man.

Sixteen years ago, he was the picture of something else.

In 1993, a schoolmate of Taylor's was shot to death. Shaun Carey, 14, who had just graduated from Holy Angels School and begun Mount Carmel High School, was one of 65 children younger than 15 killed that year. As part of its coverage of the tragic toll, the Tribune ran a photograph of Byron Taylor in his classroom at Holy Angels, wiping a tear from his eye as he wrote an essay on gun violence.

The image seemed to crystallize not just the loss of innocence of a 13-year-old boy but the pain of an entire city whose young were being cut down. It was so arresting that four TV stations came out to do stories on young Byron. Tom Brokaw came to the family's house and sat in their kitchen.

It was too soon to tell how Shaun's killing, and other violent deaths that that touched Byron's life as he grew up, might affect him.

But it isn't too soon any more.

"All I could think about was, 'He's never going to see his mom again. He's never going to do anything,' " Taylor said.

He stood in his new condominium on the South Side, with its gleaming hardwood floor and its saffron-painted walls and thought about that long-ago death and the way it had lit a kind of fire.

On some level, he thinks, knowing a child who never got to live his life inspired him to make something of his own.

"I think this was the catalyst to get serious about what was going on," he said. "Going to the Navy, going to college -- all that started here.

"I never forgot this. It was always there, that I've got to keep going.

"So, I kept going."

He kept going, from high school to college, from college to the Navy, from the Navy to graduate school, from graduate school to a postgraduate program. He kept going, from a master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Chicago to a career as an addictions psychotherapist, working now at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center while studying for a doctorate in counseling psychology at Argosy University Chicago.

He kept going, from a boy who attended church to a man who helps lead one, filling so many roles at Prayer & Faith Outreach Ministries on the Far South Side that the Rev. William Hudson III, church pastor, said, "I don't know how he balances everything he does."

He reinvented parts of himself and even renamed himself, discarding Byron and taking as his first name Taylorr, a rakish spelling of his last name.