Teacher’s killing may be tied to child custody fight
Kellye Taylor spent her last recess as she had so many others: sitting on a folding chair at a Long Beach park, watching her students clamber on a jungle gym. Then a man crept up to her side, thrust a sharp object into her neck and ran off, police said.
Taylor, 53, slumped over. Her students screamed. A fellow teacher frantically asked her what to do.
Taylor gasped: Calm down. Call 911.
The students raced back to their school. A fellow teacher stayed at Orizaba Park and tried to stem the bleeding. But it was too late. When her sister Mary Bryant arrived, Taylor was encircled by paramedics, her pupils had rolled back, and her clothes were sticky with blood.
“I said, ‘Jesus, I don’t think my sister is going to make it,’ ” Bryant said. “They didn’t stop working, they didn’t stop working. But I knew she was gone already.”
Police arrested Steven Brown, 50, Friday on suspicion of murder. He is the boyfriend of Taylor’s daughter Tia.
According to court records, Brown claimed that Taylor was an “informant” who told social workers he abused his children. The county confirmed the abuse and in March gave Taylor custody of five children — ages 2 to 17 — who had been living with Brown and Tia Taylor.
Taylor’s death Friday horrified a city that revered her and her family of educators.
Taylor’s mother, Carrie Bryant, opened a preschool in 1972 in Cambodia Town to address the area’s lack of affordable day-care.
Later, Carrie Bryant started Huntington Academy, an elementary school that served working-class children in a blue, two-story house across from Orizaba Park.
Mary Bryant said Taylor and her four sisters grew up at the schools, helping toddlers with arts and crafts and racing them on the playground. As a teacher at Huntington Academy, Bryant said, Taylor was adored as the ever-smiling Miss Kellye.
“She was extremely dedicated to her profession and did everything to provide an education to children,” said Rohda Johnson, who has taught reading at Huntington Academy for several years.
Over the weekend, dozens of people gathered at the park to hold hands, light candles, and leave flowers and balloons.
Long Beach police are still trying to sort out a motive for the attack. Detectives are looking at the custody dispute between Taylor and Brown.
Brown is the biological father of three of the five children Taylor had in her custody. He was furious about having the children taken away, according to a lawsuit he filed in July against Long Beach police, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and several social workers.
He placed much of the blame on Taylor.
In court papers, he referred to her repeatedly as an “informant,” even writing the word in the margins of documents he filed with the court. He claimed she told social workers that he was an unfit parent and advised her daughter that she would be “better off without Steven Brown.” His suit sought financial compensation from the government agencies and the return of the children.
Since May 2006, social workers had received a number of calls alleging that Brown and Tia Taylor had neglected and physically abused the children in a rat-infested home, court papers said. In 2010, Long Beach police described the home as debris-strewn and devoid of food except for two cans of SpaghettiOs.
The next year, Brown was convicted of child cruelty for punching Tia Taylor’s 16-year-old son in the face, court papers show. A judge ordered Brown to stay away from the children for three years.
In March, Tia Taylor was arrested on suspicion of slapping Brown and hitting him with her keys, court papers said. Social workers removed the children from the home, citing the couple’s criminal histories, including Brown’s convictions for robbery and drug possession.
Huntington Academy was closed Monday. On a locked gate was a picture of Kellye Taylor, her dark hair straightened and her smile wide.
“Thank you for all your prayers and support,” a note said.
At the park, the remnants of the weekend vigil remained: red and white votive candles, blue and orange balloons, and posters scrawled with goodbyes.
“I love the way you’re funny, loving and caring at the same time, I love you,” one person wrote.
“We will always remember you and love your family,” said another.
A third message came from Taylor’s teenage grandson, the one Brown was convicted of hurting.
“Love you Grammy, will remember to make good decisions,” the boy wrote. He drew a happy face next to his name.
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.