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A Look At Breonna Taylor's Life That Was Cut Short By The Police


Before she was a hashtag or a headline, before protesters around the country chanted say her name, Breonna Taylor was someone who played cards with her aunts and fell asleep watching movies with friends. In March, police officers executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night killed her in her own apartment.

Now we're going to look at who Breonna Taylor was before she became a symbol of police violence by talking with some of the people who knew her best.

BIANCA AUSTIN: That's my little Mini Me.

SHAPIRO: Your little Mini Me? Is that what you call her? (Laughter).

AUSTIN: I said Tamika had her but that she was all mine.


SHAPIRO: Breonna's aunt, Bianca Austin, invited us to her home, along with another aunt, Tahasha Holloway, and an uncle, Tyrone Bell.

TYRONE BELL: I called her Breezy (ph).

HOLLOWAY: He called her Breezy.

AUSTIN: Breezy (laughter).

HOLLOWAY: She's cool. She's a cool cat.

SHAPIRO: And we also visited two of her best friends since high school - Erinicka Hunter and Shatanis Vaughn.

SHATANIS VAUGHN: We met Breonna sophomore year.

ERINICKA HUNTER: Well, I met Breonna through you.

VAUGHN: Yeah. So...

HUNTER: She introduced us.

VAUGHN: So was it me, then her. And we've been inseparable ever since.

HUNTER: Yeah, three amigos (laughter).

VAUGHN: That's what we called ourselves, the three amigos, literally.

SHAPIRO: And collectively, her friends and family gave us the unvarnished picture of Breonna.

AUSTIN: The laugh - her laugh and her voice. She's got, like, this, baby, whiney kind of voice. Like, she's like...

HOLLOWAY: Oh, my goodness.


HOLLOWAY: You all don't know. You all don't understand. Like - (laughter).

AUSTIN: So you definitely know, like, when we mock her, like, you'll know who it was if you knew her.

SHAPIRO: Breonna Taylor loved old music from the '80s and '90s, card games with family.

HOLLOWAY: Let's play some Phase 10 and listen to some music.

SHAPIRO: OK, what was her favorite game?

HOLLOWAY: Skip-Bo or Phase 10.

AUSTIN: Skip-Bo and Phase 10.

SHAPIRO: And singing.

HOLLOWAY: (Unintelligible) Oh, she's going to sing that to the top of her lungs, like...

SHAPIRO: Oh, so she liked to sing?

AUSTIN: She liked to.


VAUGHN: She liked to. She couldn't.


SHAPIRO: Her friends told us the same thing about her cooking. She loved to do it, but...

HUNTER: She couldn't cook.

SHAPIRO: She couldn't cook? She...


VAUGHN: Yes, she could cook.

HUNTER: She could fry food.

VAUGHN: That's cooking.

HUNTER: Oh, see? She can't cook either.

VAUGHN: I can cook a little bit. Her favorite food was chicken.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

VAUGHN: She fried some good chicken.

HUNTER: Yeah, she did fry some chicken.

VAUGHN: But that's it.

SHAPIRO: Like I said, this is the unvarnished picture. A lot of Breonna Taylor's extended family moved from Michigan to Kentucky - a few at a time over the years. She came to Louisville as a teenager and fit right in.

AUSTIN: Breonna loved it.

HOLLOWAY: Loved it here. Oh, she absolutely...

AUSTIN: To this day, she loved it in Louisville, Ky., yes.

HOLLOWAY: She absolutely loved it here - like, everything about it.

SHAPIRO: When did you first know that she wanted to go into medical work and help people?

VAUGHN: I think...

AUSTIN: She's always had a caring heart. It was just in her nature to just take care of people.

BELL: I got this Facebook post that she made for me last year when I had a stroke. And I don't know, it just, like, I saved it and everything. Like, it just really...

SHAPIRO: Yeah. What does it say?

BELL: ...Touched me. But she said working in health care is so rewarding. It makes me feel so happy when I know I've made a difference in someone else's life. I'm so appreciative of all the staff that has helped my uncle throughout this difficult time and those that will continue to make a difference in his life. Keep pushing, T-Bill (ph). You got this, Unc. With that attitude and determination, I'm positive you will recover in no time. We love you. And it's just...

SHAPIRO: That says so much about her.

BELL: Right. It do. It says a lot about her. Like, and that's her. Like, that's her all the way.

SHAPIRO: Last year her friend Erinika Hunter had brain surgery. She and Breonna had drifted apart at that point, and Breonna showed up at the hospital to reminisce with her about old times.

HUNTER: And - oh, gosh, this is hard. And I'm like, well, why did we fall out? I don't understand. She was like, it doesn't matter, Ni (ph). We together again, you know? Don't worry about that. I love you. Just know that we're here. You here.

VAUGHN: Yep. That's the type of person she was.

HUNTER: But she's not here. She's not here at all. And it's not right. I feel like we was robbed.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Neighbors near PRP say they woke up to chaos, sounds of breaking glass, gunshots and sirens.

SHAPIRO: Today, we know the outlines of how Breonna Taylor died. Police doing a narcotics investigation burst into her apartment in the middle of the night with a no-knock warrant. Her boyfriend Kenneth Walker thought someone was breaking in and shot an officer in the leg. Police shot up the apartment, killing Breonna. They arrested her boyfriend. There was no body cam footage. Kenneth has since been released and the charges against him dropped.

When all that first happened in mid-March, the initial news reports told only one side of the story, referring to Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker only as suspects. This was from the local NBC affiliate.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Video of a deadly exchange of gunfire that happened between officers and suspects early this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: One suspect is dead. An officer is recovering after...

SHAPIRO: And when her family saw those stories...

AUSTIN: I was angry. I was so angry. Oh, my gosh.

HOLLOWAY: It still pisses me off. Just - suspect? Like, seriously? Unbelievable.

BELL: When I read that article, I probably said more cuss words in that little time then I said throughout my whole life (laughter). Like, angry is an understatement. Like, that is an understatement.

SHAPIRO: They think this first narrative of Breonna as a suspect could be one reason, on top of COVID-19, that most of the mortuaries they called refused to take her.

AUSTIN: You know, that was part of the reason, like, people were turning us away. Like, you know, we're calling these churches and, you know, mortuaries. And they're like, is this the young lady - this is the incident, you know, that they - and I'm like, you know, yes. And - oh, we'll get back with you and stuff like that. It was just - it was unbelievable.

HOLLOWAY: And they didn't even know her name.

SHAPIRO: Attorney Lonita Baker has been representing the family since even before Breonna Taylor's funeral. She's a personal injury lawyer who used to work as a prosecutor. The family hired her to file a suit against the police, and they're also pushing for policy changes around body cams and no-knock warrants. She went to Breonna's apartment as soon as she was allowed to.

LONITA BAKER: Even in being a prosecutor, I had never quite seen that many bullets in one apartment. To know and to see that bullets went through neighboring apartments as well, afterwards in talking to Kenny, when he told me where he was - and he was laying on the floor right next to Breonna - it's only a supreme being that - a supreme reason that he's still alive and able to talk to us about it. And I do think that that reason is that we needed someone to tell us the story of what happened so that we can get the change that is needed.

SHAPIRO: So when protesters today say her name, Breonna's family and friends say they feel lifted up. At the same time, they have complicated feelings about the person they love becoming a larger-than-life figure in death.

Is it weird to share your best friend with millions of people you've never met?


VAUGHN: Yes. It makes me jealous a little bit.

HUNTER: Like, you don't even know her.

VAUGHN: Seriously. Like...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

HUNTER: But it's wonderful. It's a blessing all in the same. Like, thank you for, you know, acknowledging her and, you know, and loving her just off of what you think. But I actually knew her, you know?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Let's make that clear.

HUNTER: And she blessed my life. You don't know.

SHAPIRO: Breonna's aunts and uncle are still wrapping their heads around the fact that their niece, who they have known her whole life, is now a symbol - a hashtag.

HOLLOWAY: Never would think that her name would be added to a list...

AUSTIN: Or hashtag.

HOLLOWAY: ...Or hashtag. Or, you know, now you write and say her name. You just think, like, how? Like, why is she even part of this? How does this happen?

AUSTIN: And in a sense, we're grateful that her name is where she should be. You know, unfortunately in this situation, but, you know, we don't want this at all. We want her back. Like, I'd rather just go back in time. Like, just crazy.

SHAPIRO: Do you think something good will come of this?

AUSTIN: I hope so. I'm praying to God. I said, we need real change in America because it's scary. Like, I got to still raise a little black boy here in this world we live in. Anybody - nobody's safe. If this can happen to Breonna, it can happen to anybody.

SHAPIRO: Erinicka Hunter was going through Breonna's things after her death and found something she hadn't seen in years - a scrapbook page that Breonna made in high school memorializing their friendship.

HUNTER: This is our senior page from our scrapbook.

SHAPIRO: It's the two of you in, like, a bunch of different photos together. And then what does it say here in the corner?

HUNTER: Erinicka is like the sister the same age as me that I've always wanted. She is the one who is always there right beside me when I need her.

SHAPIRO: Erinicka sets the page and the tiny urn with some of Breonna's ashes next to each other on her kitchen table.

HUNTER: Yeah, those are her ashes. I know people think I'm so weird because, like, sometimes when I need a drink, I sit down, prop it up just like this. And I talk to her. I talk to her ashes.

SHAPIRO: Across town, there's another image of Breonna. It's a portrait drawn in chalk at the center of the protest in downtown Louisville. People gather in a circle around it, chanting.








HUNTER: She always said this she would be a legend. I just never imagined that it would be like this.

SHAPIRO: Is that true? She said that?

HUNTER: Yeah. I'm going to be one of the greats. I'm going to be a legend. You all are going to remember me (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Tomorrow would have been Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday. Her family and friends are going to get together for a barbecue. And then on Saturday, hundreds of people, maybe thousands, will gather for a larger birthday celebration here in Louisville, releasing balloons and butterflies in memory of the woman they never met.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX RICHTER'S "A BLESSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.