Taylor Hayden was in a celebratory mood on July 23, 2016. The 25-year-old had a lot to celebrate; she had recently graduated from Prairie View A & M University in Texas and had just started a new job as a management trainee with Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Houston. She had wanted to go on a girls getaway for months, and her dream had finally become a reality; she and a group of her closest friends were spending the weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. They had rented a house for the weekend and had planned to do a number of fun things, but their time together was cut tragically short when Taylor was shot and ki*lled less than a day after they arrived in Atlanta.

The night had started out great; the women had gone out to dinner and then went dancing at a local club. At some point, they ended up at the Anchor Down Grille & Lounge, an after-hours club in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. They left the club around 5:00 am, exhausted and ready to get some sleep. They had arranged to be picked up by an Uber driver, and they were waiting in the parking lot for their ride to arrive when shots suddenly rang out.

According to one witness, there were so many shots fired that it sounded like a 4th of July fireworks show. Panicked people began to run in all different directions; most of them found shelter behind parked cars. Taylor wasn’t as lucky. As she turned to run, someone grabbed at her and attempted to hide behind her as if she were a human shield. She found herself caught in the crossfire with no way to get to safety; she was shot in her arm and side and immediately collapsed to the ground.

An ambulance arrived within minutes, but Taylor was in grave condition. Paramedics made a quick attempt at stabilizing her, then placed her in the back of the ambulance and rushed her to Grady Hospital. The hospital was just five miles away, but by the time Taylor arrived, it was already too late. There was nothing doctors could do to save her life, and she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Detectives from the Atlanta Police Department immediately launched a homicide investigation, but they struggled to find witnesses who were willing to talk with them. Although the parking lot had been crowded with people at the time of the shooting, but by the time detectives arrived almost all of them had fled.

A couple of people came forward and told investigators that the shooting had started after an argument between two carloads of people appeared to get out of hand. One group had been in an Audi, while the second group had been in a white Cadillac Escalade. It wasn’t immediately clear if occupants of both cars had been involved in the shooting, but witnesses seemed fairly certain that the shot that ki*lled Taylor had been fired from the Escalade. It had taken off at a high rate of speed after Taylor crumpled to the pavement.

With the number of shots that were fired, investigators were surprised that only one person had been hit; it appeared that most of the shots had been into the air. The cars in the parking lot were unscathed.

Taylor’s family was devastated when they were notified of her d*eath. Her brother, Jeffery Hayden, was a Minnesota state senator at the time; he posted a message about his sister’s d*eath on his Facebook page, asking for people to pray for his family as they struggled to comprehend what had happened.

Taylor’s father, Pete Hayden, was the CEO of Turning Point, a group that had been formed to help African American males deal with various life situations. He had always been an advocate of gun control, and he was horrified to learn that his daughter had been a victim of a random act of gun violence. He prayed that her ki*ller would quickly be brought to justice so Taylor could rest in peace.

Detectives obtained surveillance video from outside the Anchor Down Grill and Lounge; although it didn’t show the actual shooting, it did show dozens of people running to hide behind cars in the club’s parking lot. This proved to investigators that a lot of people had been present when the shots were fired, and they pleaded with them to come forward and speak with detectives. Only a few people were willing to do so, but no one would admit to recognizing the occupants of the Escalade. With few tips coming in, the investigation soon stalled.

At the time of the shooting the Anchor Down Grille and Lounge was owned by two former NFL players, Uche Nwaneri and Edawn Coughman. They stated that they felt terrible about the fact that the shooting had occurred so close to their establishment, but that they still believed they were operating a safe business. Taylor’s family wasn’t so sure. They noted that the club had been shut down the month before after a number of permit violations, including serving alcohol after 2:30 am. They believed that the club should not have been allowed to reopen; if it had remained closed, their daughter would still be alive.

There was nothing to indicate that the fight that caused the shooting had started inside the nightclub; several people believed that the occupants of both vehicles had simply pulled over near the parking lot after a drug deal went bad. Others believed that Taylor had been caught in the crossfire of a fight between two rival gangs.

Investigators weren’t sure what the occupants of the vehicles had been fighting about, but they were certain that Taylor hadn’t been an intended target. She had done nothing wrong, she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Shortly after the murd*er, the Buckhead Coalition offered a financial reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for k*illing Taylor. They were hopeful that money would be a good enough incentive for someone to finally come forward and provide police with the shooter’s name, but it wasn’t. Police were unable to break through the apparent code of silence, and no suspects have ever been named.

Taylor’s case is still open, though it has been cold for years. Detectives know that there are people in the Atlanta area who know exactly what happened that night, and they continue to hope that someone will finally listen to their conscience and tell investigators the name of the person who ki*lled Taylor.

As a way to honor Taylor and make sure that she will always be remembered, her family has started the Taylor Hayden Memorial Fund to End Gun Violence. Through a combination of education and activism, her family hopes to eliminate gun violence in this country so that no other family has to suffer the way they have.

Taylor Simone Hayden was just 25 years old when she was mu*rdered in 2016. She was a beautiful and vivacious young woman who had a positive impact on the lives of all who were lucky enough to know her. More than 1500 people attended her funeral, and all of them pray for the day that her kil*ler is finally arrested and forced to face the consequences of his actions. If you have any information about Taylor’s mur*der, please contact the Atlanta Police Department at 404–614–6544.

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