Selena Taylor on the bench that honors her son Ezra Taylor, who was killed by gun violence in 2021. Photo by Keelin Everly-Lang / The Mirror

Selena Taylor on the bench that honors her son Ezra Taylor, who was killed by gun violence in 2021. Photo by Keelin Everly-Lang / The Mirror

Family of gun violence victim helps Des Moines community and others

Aims to reduce violence in memory of Ezra Taylor, who died in a 2021 triple shooting outside bar

When the family of gun violence victim Ezra Taylor celebrates his birthday with community service this year, they’ll do so finally knowing his killer is in prison serving life without parole.

While this sentencing brings a bitter peace after the fact, the Taylor family also works to reduce gun violence before it begins through their nonprofit Ezra’s Hands Outreach.

Through that organization, they work with young people to empower them in positive ways “before they even think about touching a gun or even think about touching something bad,” according to Ezra’s mother, Selena Taylor.

On Aug. 17, the Taylor family invites the community to honor Ezra’s memory the way they have now since his tragic death in 2021 — by giving back to the community in an event at Midway Park in Des Moines, where a bench was dedicated to Ezra’s memory by the city of Des Moines in 2021.

The park is at 29th Avenue South and South 221st Street in Des Moines, and the event will begin at 1:30 p.m. It will include everything from face painting to food and bouncy houses. Backpacks full of school supplies will be handed out to families that need it.

Sentencing

As previously reported in the Kent Reporter, 47-year-old SeaTac man Joshua Puloka, aka Joshua Everybodytalksabout, received a life sentence without parole for the 2021 triple murder outside a Des Moines bar. The sentence was issued from King County Superior Court Judge LeRoy McCullough at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Puloka was sentenced on three counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree assault and one count of second-degree assault.

A jury convicted Puloka on May 2 for the Sept. 26, 2021, shooting outside the La Familia Sports Bar, 22855 Pacific Highway S., just north of Kent.

Ezra Taylor, 26, Antoine Matthews, 32, and Angelia Hylton, 46, died in the shooting. Two other men were shot and injured. Family members of Taylor, Matthews and Hylton attended the sentencing.

During these challenging three years, the Taylor family has channeled their grief into community involvement.

Grandmother of Ezra Taylor, Betty Taylor, often shared her grief at city council meetings in Federal Way. Witnessing the raw emotion has kept Ezra Taylor in the public’s mind.

After extended advocacy, the city of Federal Way first presented the family with a proclamation about gun violence in 2022.

“It’s been a long journey for our family and the community that was tragically affected on September 26,” Selena Taylor said when she and other family members accepted the proclamation again from the Federal Way City Council this past June 4.

Working with youth

When it comes to gun violence specifically, Selena Taylor told the Federal Way Mirror newspaper that youth who feel powerless in their lives can sometimes find “that power for the first time when they pick up a gun.” In their work with Ezra’s Hands Outreach, she said “it’s important for them to feel powerful before anything else does.”

In their work, they look for kids who are “quiet, not doing well in school” or other characteristics that point to a vulnerability toward finding power and positive attention in unhealthy ways.

“Those are the kids who go to the streets to get their love from others,” Taylor said. Through Ezra’s Hands Outreach, they focus on helping them embrace their gifts to remind them they are “great, magnificent and fantastic.”

This work looks like identifying dreams and goals and pairing up young people with mentors, taking them on field trips to workplaces, taking them out to restaurants, and working with them on communication and life skills and a variety of other activities intended to inspire and empower.

They are currently working with 250 youth throughout Federal Way, Des Moines and Seattle and have had a total of 710 go through their programs, according to Selena Taylor. These numbers don’t include the number of youth and families affected through their participation in community events or through other community projects who also benefit from the community around Ezra’s Hands Outreach.

Ezra was known to family and friends as “EZ” and the nickname became part of his message to “Keep it EZ.” He shared it in schools, workshops and casual conversations with friends and community members.


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