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Baltimore Officer Keona Holley dies one week after being shot in ambush

Baltimore police officers and residents at the scene of a fatal shooting. (Amy Davis/The Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley died Thursday one week after being shot in an ambush while she sat in her patrol car, the police department announced.

Holley, a 39-year-old mother of four who joined the police department two years ago to make a difference, was shot in the head while working an overtime shift early in the morning of Dec. 16 in Curtis Bay. She had been on life support at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The Baltimore Police Department said in a news release Thursday evening that her family, in consultation with doctors, made “the most difficult decision” to remove her from life support. She was pronounced dead shortly after, police said.

Officials including Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Brandon Scott offered their condolences Thursday.

“Baltimore will never forget Officer Holley’s sacrifice and commitment to making a difference in her beloved city,” Scott said. “I ask that everyone please keep Officer Holley’s family in your prayers as they endure the holiday season without their mother, daughter, sister and loyal friend.”

Harrison said his prayers were with Holley’s family and coworkers, adding that he thanks her and the entire police community for their “commitment, service and sacrifice.”

Community residents held a vigil for Holley late Wednesday afternoon, praying for a “miracle.” She was recalled as the “Mom from the West Side,” who made an impression on residents and fellow police officers alike.

Police have charged two men in the shooting, as well as with a second killing, that of 38-year-old Justin Johnson, which took place about 90 minutes after Holley’s shooting in Southwest Baltimore. Police used video from cameras in the area to track down one of the suspects, Elliott Knox. Knox allegedly admitted to detectives that he was present, and told police where to find the weapons used.

But a motive remains unknown and the police investigation is continuing.

Knox said that Johnson had been killed because he owed money to Travon Shaw, who Knox said carried out both shootings. But detectives wrote in charging documents that shell casings from two different types of firearms were used, and that video from Curtis Bay showed both men approaching the area where Holley was shot. At least seven people have been killed in Baltimore since Holley and Johnson were shot.

Condolences poured in following the police department’s announcement Thursday.

Gov. Larry Hogan said “our hearts are broken” over the loss of “one of our true heroes,” and asked that Holley’s family be kept in prayers, along with police and others who “put their lives on the line every day to keep the rest of us safe.”

Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement that “Keona’s life had meaning and mattered to her family, her friends and her colleagues.”

“As a police agency, we are suffering,” Mancuso said, “and as individuals, we are crushed.”

Sgt. Bill Janu, an instructor with Baltimore Police, said Holley stood out to him because when he asked her class of recruits what drew them to the profession, she said she was a Baltimore City resident and wanted to make the city a better place.

“You ask people what they want to do in the department and, you know, people say SWAT, people say ‘I want to be in DAT (District Action Team) and kick doors.’ … Her attitude was ‘I don’t care what I do, I just want to give back to the community,’” Janu recalled. “I felt like she could’ve done anything in the department and done the most to give back to the City of Baltimore.”

Janu also recalled a moment during Holley’s academy process when she ran out of the room crying. He was one of a few people who sat with her afterward, when she shared she was afraid because she didn’t want to leave her children motherless.

She was ultimately convinced to continue the training and graduate, and Janu remembers seeing her on graduation week and how happy she was she had stuck with it. “She flourished in the class,” he said.

When he found out Holley was shot, Janu said he couldn’t believe it.

“I see, I don’t know, almost 200 people a year, whatever we put through in the academy,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you the name of 98% of them. But as soon as it was Holley, it was just like a pit in my stomach.”

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City’s state’s attorney, said she intended to prosecute “to the fullest extent of the law” the people responsible for the crime.

As a mother, I extend my sincere condolences and prayers to Officer Holley’s four children, friends, colleagues and family. … Violence is always unacceptable, especially when the target is those who are committed to protecting this city,” Mosby said in a statement.

The police department said in a statement that free, confidential counseling services were available for employees and requested those who wish to make a contribution for Holley’s family to visit signal13foundation.org and specify her family by writing “In support of Officer Holley.”

“We mourn Officer Holley’s death together and we will heal together,” said Harrison, the commissioner.

Holley is the first officer to be killed in Baltimore City since Detective Sean Suiter in 2017. Suiter was shot the day before a planned grand jury appearance related to the department’s Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal. An external review found he shot himself, but his family and attorney insist he did not take his own life. The case remains classified as a homicide.

Holley’s sister Lawanda Sykes spoke to reporters outside Shock Trauma last week, saying that her sister was beloved and worked hard for the city.

“She left out of that house every day and dug her feet into the dirt to serve this city,” Sykes said.

Holley had previously worked at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, a state psychiatric facility; friends said she was a nursing assistant, while state health officials said she had a security job. Holley was interviewed by the website Insider as she was going through the police academy in 2020, and explained why she wanted to be a police officer later in life.

“I didn’t want to be a Baltimore police officer before. I feel like Baltimore City police officers have a bad name about themselves,” Holley said. “We have to change that, and change it together. The community needs Baltimore City police officers that’s not just here for a paycheck. They’re here because they care.”

Last Christmas, Holley posted a video on Facebook where she and fellow officers handed out Christmas gifts to a family on the front porch. It appears to be organized by a handful of officers.

“One of my favorite sergeants felt compelled to purchase these three beautiful little girls Christmas, and officers donated,” she wrote in December of last year. The girls, she said, had “endured something they probably won’t ever forget.”

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©2021 Baltimore Sun.

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