Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday called allegations that a city police officer may have been involved in the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a 13-year-old girl "disgusting."
"As a mother, it's hard for me to describe what a tragedy this is," the mayor said, speaking after the weekly Board of Estimates meeting. "It's a tragedy made worse by allegations of police involvement. The thought of it is quite frankly disgusting."
Rawlings-Blake said she had spoken with relatives of the teen, Monae Turnage, to extend her sympathies. The mayor's comments came hours before hundreds of Monae's friends attended a neighborhood vigil to mourn her death.
"She was a sweet little girl and I really miss her," said one of her best friends, Shaniya Blanding, 13, joining classmates in the parking lot of William C. March Middle School on North Wolfe Street, where Monae had been an eighth-grader. The school is just a few blocks from where she had lived.
Monae's mother gave Shaniya her daughter's favorite teddy bear, Frizzy, which the little girl clutched close to her chest. "I'm trying not to cry," Shaniya said.
Police and prosecutors continued Wednesday to investigate the officer, who was suspended Monday. Law enforcement sources say the .22-caliber rifle believed to have been used in the shooting was found inside his personal vehicle. Two boys, ages 12 and 13, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter; the officer has not been charged with any crime.
Law enforcement sources identified the officer as John A. Ward, 32, a four-year veteran of the agency who is assigned to the Eastern District as a patrol officer. His beats include the area where the shooting occurred, the sources said, though he was off duty at the time of the shooting.
Attempts to reach Ward on Wednesday were unsuccessful, and an attorney for the police union declined to comment.
Since Ward's suspension, police have refused to verify his name and have only said that his "conduct" in the aftermath of the shooting was under investigation. Law enforcement sources said investigators believe Ward was dating a relative of one the boys charged in the killing, and they are exploring whether he advised the boys after the shooting.
The police department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said officials would disclose details of the case once the investigation was complete.
"The Police Department cannot comment on the pending investigation," Guglielmi said. "However, the department will divulge the contents of the case … at the conclusion of the investigation. We just need to give investigators space and time to conduct an impartial review of the facts."
Rawlings-Blake also declined to comment on the details of the case, but said she would not stand for wrongdoing by police.
"I require more from our officers. They have the public's trust at hand in everything they do," she said. "It's important for everyone to know that I expect our officers to perform their duties and in accordance with the law at all times."
Only one speaker at the vigil, the Rev. Willie Ray, who has railed against violence for years, mentioned the officer's alleged involvement.
"We have to pray for the officer too," Ray told those gathered. Speaking from a small platform and into a bullhorn, Ray called Monae a "martyr" for calling attention "to murders that happen every day, murders that we ignore every day."
Several people at the vigil knew not only Monae but Sean Johnson, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed last year while sitting on his front porch, a block from her home. According to data released recently by the city health department, the area including the Darley Park neighborhood has the highest homicide rate in the city.
"We're just recovering from Sean," said Vonda Cole, whose son knew both victims "Now they have to recover from another one."
The children recalled Monae as a lost friend and the grown-ups referred to her as a "little flower" who bopped around the neighborhood and made everybody smile.
A neighborhood resident, the Rev. Delores Jordan, associate pastor of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, where Saturday's funeral for Monae is scheduled, led everyone in prayer, reminding them that Jesus blessed children and urging everyone to reach out "and touch someone."