Montelle Taylor’s father, Michael C. Taylor II, and his girlfriend, Mary Taylor, reflect as they sit on the porch of the house where Montelle lived.
He was in and out of trouble starting when he was only 12. His infractions started out as minor misdemeanors and escalated into felony offenses. He spent time in juvenile correctional facilities, but he couldn’t seem to get on track.
“He was caught up,” neighbor Cenia Prior said. “He didn’t know which way to go.”
Montelle was booked into the system again last month for receiving stolen property. On June 10 — the day he was killed — he was supposed to make an appearance in Lucas County Juvenile Court.
He was enrolled at Scott High School but was going to have to repeat the 10th grade because he was late to school too many times.
He lived at 1338 Grand Ave., on a block littered with vacant and burned-down houses. The only signs of life at his address are the stuffed animals, balloons, and memories scrawled in red marker across the plywood that covered the front window.
The house where he lived for more than one year was, except for the front door, boarded up. It was the place he ran to every time someone tried to pull him out of the neighborhood, the place his parole officer visited, the place that, according to the city’s utilities department and Columbia Gas, hasn’t had water or gas service since the previous owner ordered the water be shut off on Oct. 15, 2009.
He was falling through the cracks.
Neighbors said he never had a chance.
“I would talk to him futuristically and he would say, ‘I don’t know if I’ll make it,’?” his mother, Shannon Lipkinssilar, 36, said.
A photo of Montelle Taylor is part of a makeshift memorial outside the boarded-up house that he considered home.
He died before arriving at Toledo Hospital.
Montelle’s case is one of four unsolved homicides this year. He is the youngest homicide victim since 16-year-old Kantraylious Guy was found dead inside a house on Acklin Avenue in the Old West End on Dec. 21, 2010.
Kantraylious’ death is also unsolved.
A history of trouble
Montelle’s trouble with the law seemed to start in 2005 after he was charged with disorderly conduct.
Trouble for the teenager continued in 2007 — he was charged with misdemeanors: loitering, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct, obstruction of official business.
His crimes escalated into felony charges that fall, according to records from the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center. He was ordered to spend six months in the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware, Ohio, but was granted early release in January, 2008. He was under house arrest until Feb. 5, 2008.
The trouble continued. He spent more time in correctional facilities.
In August, 2008, he was sentenced to spend at least one year in Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility in Massillon, Ohio, after he was convicted of a felony burglary charge. He was released on Oct. 13, 2009.
On May 27, Montelle was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property.
Montelle Taylor lived in this house at 1338 Grand Ave. for more than a year. It hasn’t had water or gas service since October, 2009, according to Toledo’s utilities department and Columbia Gas.
Montelle was on community detention, which required home visits and phone calls from a surveillance officer, and random urine screenings, said Kendra Kec, assistant juvenile court administrator.
The surveillance officer would have to visit the home at least once a night, but it is not unusual for an officer to check in three or four times a day, she said.
Ms. Kec said the officer had been making regular visits to the home, at least once a night or multiple times a day.
This was a teenager who seemed to always be in trouble, but one woman who knew Montelle, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said he wasn’t a bad kid.
Electricity at the house where Montelle lived was active, but Toledo Edison would not comment on consumption. The meter on the side of the home did not move to indicate electricity use last week.
Montelle’s father, Michael C. Taylor II, said the house did have water service.
The home was approved by the court and Children Services, said Lucas County Children Services spokesman Julie Malkin.
“If [officers] were watching him and they thought the situation was inappropriate, they have the power to remove him,” Ms. Malkin said. “Whoever was keeping an eye on him, if they were concerned about his living situation, they should have reported it to us.”
Ms. Malkin did not know when the house was approved but said the last time Children Services had contact with Montelle was a year ago.
When approving a home, Children Services looks at whom the child is living with — sometimes background checks are conducted — the physical safety of the house is inspected, and whether the child has a bed is examined.
A young Montelle Taylor sat for a formal portrait with his half-sister, A’Bria Johnson, now 15, when she was a baby.
The woman who asked to remain anonymous said that when Montelle would come to her home — he was friends with her children — he was often dirty and his clothes hadn’t been washed.
She would send Montelle upstairs to shower and would put his clothes into the wash.
Once Montelle told her that he had not eaten in two days. She fixed him dinner.
“He was never disrespectful to me, not once,” she said.
Montelle often called her “Mama.”
The Grand Avenue neighborhood where Montelle lived was quiet last week. Neighbors kept watchful eyes on children playing outside. Some stopped to talk about Montelle.
Ms. Prior, who has lived on Grand for years, said she knew Montelle. Just a few hours before he was killed, she saw him riding his bike up and down the street and told him to stay inside.
“He was a good kid,” Ms. Prior said. “He just wanted to belong. He just felt like an outsider.”
To some people in the neighborhood, Montelle was an outsider, largely because on April 24, 2010, his half-brother Michael Taylor, III, 18, allegedly shot and killed Darrin Smith, 20, after a quarrel.
Shannon Lipkinssilar, Montelle’s mother, says she finds herself frequently visiting Auburn Avenue, where her son was gunned down.
Montelle’s half-brother declined to be interviewed for this story.
Neighbors and Montelle’s family can’t help but ask who killed Montelle and why. Ms. Lipkinssilar said her mind takes her to dark places — imagining how and why her son was killed.
“He’s not a fighter,” she said. “They didn’t have to kill him.”
The area where Montelle lived is filled with gang activity, neighbors said. Montelle was wearing red — one of his favorite colors — the night he died, riding his bike in a Crips neighborhood.
That could be motive to kill, neighbors said.
Although Toledo police are keeping tight-lipped about the case, they have said Montelle’s death is not gang-related.
“I would rather it be for revenge,” Ms. Lipkinssilar said. “That would mean they knew someone loved him and it would have been the ultimate revenge and for a greater purpose.”
Montelle’s father said his son probably was killed to avenge Smith’s death.
Montelle and Smith were friends, Darrin Smith’s father, Darrin Smith, Sr., had said, adding that Montelle talked to Mr. Smith and wanted to stay close with the family.
“He loved Darrin,” Montelle’s father said.
But Montelle’s loyalty to Smith bothered people, some believing Montelle was the enemy because of his brother’s charge.
Montelle had several memorial T-shirts for Smith that he wore frequently.
On several occasions, he was threatened or physically attacked for wearing the shirt, neighbors and his father said.
Starting only days after Smith was killed, the Taylors’ homes, five of them in all, burned down.
One of them, 1366 Grand Ave., is now a vacant, overgrown lot.
The most recent fire, on Jan. 10, happened while the family was in court for Montelle’s half-brother.
The homes that burned, all in the 1300 block of the street, are listed as arsons, according to the Toledo Fire Department.
Montelle’s father, who has been involved in real estate and didn’t want to leave the neighborhood, said that when he left the home at 1338 Grand Ave. about midnight on June 10 — he was going to stay with his girlfriend, Mary Taylor — he told Montelle to stay inside.
He couldn’t help but notice a group of men — 12 to 15 of them — outside just a few doors down. He thinks they were watching his house.
At home on Grand
The woman who asked to remain anonymous said Montelle would sometimes sleep in his back yard because he feared someone was going to kick in the front door — and possibly burn the place down or attack him.
Montelle’s father said he was unaware of that. He also said he did not fear for himself or Montelle’s life. Despite the threats and violence, his family has a long history of living on the block — his grandmother and mother both lived there, starting in the 1960s.
Ms. Lipkinssilar said Montelle idolized his half-brother and wanted to live with his father. She couldn’t persuade him to leave Grand Avenue. She thought that maybe he would get his grades up if he were living where he wanted to.
“Montelle wanted to be in that neighborhood,” she said. “He was more comfortable being in the surroundings of Grand.”
Montelle’s father, who has been convicted in Toledo Municipal Court on several offenses — including receiving stolen property, providing false information to a police officer, criminal mischief, and petty theft — said Montelle’s dream was to graduate from high school and make it big in Los Angeles or New York opening his own recording studio.
The last time Ms. Lipkinsillar saw her son was on June 3 — the day President Obama was in Toledo — and she said he was worried about his upcoming court appearance. He didn’t want to go to jail, she said.
He told his mother he was thinking about moving in with her.
She told him no, not until he got his life on track, because she has younger children in her home.
A tough start
Montelle was her only son. He was born on July 7, 1993 — eight weeks early and weighing less than 5 pounds.
“They took something so special,” she said of whoever killed her son. “I remember Montelle fighting for his life as a baby. I was crying all over him. I couldn’t bring him home without a breathing machine.”
Balloons and stuffed animals have been attached to the boards covering the windows of the house on Grand Avenue where Montelle Taylor lived. The area is filled with gang activity, neighbors said.
As Ms. Lipkinsillar called Ms. Taylor to discuss possible funeral arrangements, Montelle’s half-sister, A’Bria Johnson, 15, sat on an ottoman staring at an old studio portrait of Montelle and herself.
She carried the photo upstairs.
Ms. Lipkinsillar said she finds herself visiting the site every day where Montelle was gunned down on Auburn Avenue — she will tell her daughters she is going to Kroger and then ends up on the other side of town.
“Even if we solve this, it’s not like we made a deal with the devil and here’s your son back,” she said. “Not that I don’t want them to pay, but if I found out this was plotted or planned, I have a lifetime to hate the people responsible.”
Montelle will be buried Monday.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6054.