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BPD officer Keona Holley mourned by thousands at Convention Center funeral

BPD Officer Keona Holley's casket. On Tuesday, thousands gathered at the Convention Center for her funeral.
Baltimore Police Department Twitter
BPD Officer Keona Holley's casket. On Tuesday, thousands gathered at the Convention Center for her funeral.

Thousands of mourners gathered at the Baltimore Convention Center Tuesday for the funeral of Officer Keona Holley, who died last month from wounds sustained during an overnight shift in Curtis Bay.

A chorus of public officials, family members and loved ones remembered Holley as a compassionate, dedicated officer who joined the Baltimore Police Department in an effort to change the status quo in her native city.

Holley was shot in the head while sitting in her patrol car in Curtis Bay on Dec. 16. Her family took her off life support on Dec 23. The 39-year-old mother of four and grandmother joined the force two years earlier, telling the website Insider in a 2020 interview that city police officers have a bad reputation.

“We have to change that, and change it together,” she said. “The community needs Baltimore City police officers that’s not just here for a paycheck. They’re here because they care.”

Police charged two men for her killing and have said their motives were unclear.

Her daughter remembered her as the “Mom from the West Side” who took in children whose parents were lost to violence.

“There's so many kids that don't have their mom from senseless violence, so many kids who don't have their dads from senseless violence. And she was that bridge. She was the one to be like, ‘Hey, you my child now. You coming home with me,’ ” she said. “I'm going to miss that. I'm so glad that I had a mother like her.”

She’ll live the rest of her life trying to make her mother proud, she said.

Holley’s husband said their family has been overwhelmed with support and thanked his late wife for showing him the power of unconditional love. The two met in elementary school more than 25 years ago.

“She made a man out of me,” he said. “She showed me how to love and more importantly, showed me how to forgive.”

Holley was the first BPD officer to die on duty since Sean Suiter’s death in 2017. Police officers from across the country attended the funeral, saluting her body at an open casket wake preceding the ceremony. Officers from Fort Worth, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. joined officers from across the state.

In his eulogy, Gov. Larry Hogan said Holley served with passion and dedication.

“Keona devoted her life to trying to fix a little piece of what's wrong with our world,” he said. “I believe that is the legacy of Officer Keona Holley.”

Mayor Brandon Scott called her a superwoman who effortlessly balanced her jobs as officer and mother and served all with dignity and respect.

“She didn't do what so many people do each and every day: wait on the sidelines, say the police department needs to be better, say that the city needs to be better. She stepped up and right into the fight for a better Baltimore and we have to celebrate her for that,” he said.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison recalled her difficulties in joining the department: Holley struggled to pass the fitness test required of recruits, but didn’t let that or other obstacles she encountered stop her from joining the force at age 37.

“She ran toward danger, rather than away from it. Officer Holley ran toward this calling at a time in her life when most people are thinking about how to slow down, how to do less, how to avoid that which is hard, how to avoid that which is dangerous,” he said.

Before joining the department, Holley worked at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, a state psychiatric facility, for more than seven years. Lt. Curtis Worthy, Holley's shift commander at the Southern District, said she dreamed of joining the Crisis Intervention Team, a new BPD unit that trains officers how to respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

He said Holley was adored by Curtis Bay residents: “She would respond to calls for service where people were injured, angry, scared, sometimes even suicidal. And she brought healing. She brought healing to a community ravaged by gun violence and drug addiction.”

Her fellow officers adored her too, Worthy said, recalling how she and another officer, “the chefs of the shift,” prepared a meal of pancakes, waffles, home fries and shrimp and grits for last year’s Thanksgiving shift.

“She had a soft, pleasant voice, but she had a presence that filled the room,” he said. “She was an angel sent to us in human form.”

Holley’s daughter said her mother achieved the vision that led her to becoming a police officer.

“She had this preconceived notion that cops needed to be better. They needed to demonstrate better for the Black community,” she said. “And she did that.”

Holley will be interred at King Memorial Park in western Baltimore County.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.