Mug shot: Kenisha Thomas

Mug shot: Kenisha Thomas (Baltimore Police Department / May 3, 2012)

Citing the "bravery of two" but noting the "valor of all" their colleagues, the state's governor and city's mayor lauded Thursday the workers who helped save an infant being stabbed at a social services office in East Baltimore.

William Purnell Short III hit the suspect with a chair, forcing her to drop the infant, and Dana Hayes screamed for help, prompting a flurry of 911 calls that got police and paramedics quickly to the social services complex on Biddle Street on April 24.

Short held the suspect — who police said bit him on the hands — until police arrived. Another social worker picked up 8-month-old Pretty Diamond from the floor, a kitchen knife still lodged in her neck, and cradled her until help arrived.

"We are celebrating the bravery of two but the valor of all, of each and every one of you." Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told Short and Hayes, along with more than 200 of their colleagues in the complex's cafeteria.

Every day, the mayor said, "you all help save kids who have no one. You are called to care."

The roomful of workers broke out in applause and appeared taken aback by the attention. Most toil in one of the most private of jobs, dealing with children who have been taken away from parents for a variety of reasons, including drug abuse and violence.

Short and Hayes accepted their plaques and proclamation with smiles but without saying a word. After the ceremony, Short, a 24-year veteran, said only, "I am just happy I was there. I was just doing my job, what my parents taught me."

The attack occurred during a supervised visit involving Hayes, 29-year-old Kenisha Thomas and her infant daughter. Thomas did have custody of the girl.

Court documents state that when Hayes told her the visit was nearly over, Thomas said, "It's all over," and took out a large, silver-bladed kitchen knife. Police said she held the infant on a tabletop and stabbed her five times in the head, throat and chest while saying, "I'm going to kill my baby."

Hayes left the room screaming for help as Short rushed in and threw a chair at Thomas. She deflected the first one, police said, but was hit in the face with the second, forcing her to drop the baby and knife.

According to court documents, while Short was holding Thomas, she said, "Lock me up. If I can't have her, nobody will." The documents quote her adding, "I hope my baby is dead."

Outside the room, a security guard dialed 911.

"I have a lady that just stabbed a baby," the guard screamed at the dispatcher, according to a recording released by Baltimore police. "She's right here. One of the caseworkers is holding her down. … The baby has a knife in her. Baby is not even 1 years old, ma'am. … It's a girl. This lady, she's real dangerous."

Another caller from the office told the dispatcher that Short was holding the suspect. "The baby is breathing," the caller said. "The baby is crying. She's bleeding over her eye."

The dispatcher asked: "What part of the body was she stabbed?"

Caller: "Looks like the head."

Dispatcher: "Is it more than one wound?"

Caller: "I don't know. We can't tell because of the amount of blood."

Thomas, who has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, assault and child abuse, is being held without bail in the Baltimore City Detention Center. The infant has been released from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

The incident sparked a review of security at the complex, with the union representing social workers calling on the private security guards to be replaced with police officers. State officials said they've now banned bags from four social service offices in the city and are allowing social workers to station guards outside visitation rooms if they have safety concerns.

Last week, Theodore Dallas, secretary of the Department of Human Resources, said the knife was hidden in Thomas' purse, which was searched by a guard, who missed it. The woman, but not her bag, passed through a metal detector, Dallas said.

At the start of Thursday's ceremony, the head of the city's Department of Social Services, Molly McGrath, told workers that last month "something very bad happened" in the complex. "Then," she said, "something miraculous happened."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, noting tough budget decisions coming in Annapolis, told the workers that they "are on the front lines. … There is no such thing here in Baltimore as a spare American. A lot of times in the budget debates, people who don't know what you do will say just ... cut, cut, cut."

The governor said that "that's not what we're about." He said that the state needs to balance the budget and live frugally, "but we also need to do what God has asked us to do here and now, which in your noble vocation and calling means saving lives. Little lives. Lives that can't even speak or walk for themselves depend on you."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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