Mourners packed into a Baptist church Saturday for the funeral of Angel Chiwengo, less than a mile from where she died after a Jeep she was riding in was hit by a car fleeing from police.
The precise circumstances around Chiwengo's death remain unclear — the Police Department has said its officers were following a pair of suspects, but not whether their actions amounted to an unsanctioned chase — and songs of praise and fond memories dominated at her funeral.
But during his eulogy — to a congregation of approximately 150 — the Rev. Walter L. Parrish III, pastor at Northside Baptist Church, questioned why the city or the department had not sent a representative to pay their respects.
"We are saddened by how we lost her," Parrish said. "I am still saddened to know that the city of Baltimore has not shown up officially to show its condolences. "
Chiwengo, 46, died after a Honda carrying two men fleeing north from Harford Road and 25th Street slammed into the Jeep of her colleague Andrew Baker Jr. at the intersection of Northern Parkway and York Road. The two people in the Honda, Devell Johns, 26, and Terrell Young, 28, were also killed, and Baker, 54, was critically injured.
Police said that officers have been in touch with the family a number of times and that their criminal investigation into the incident is continuing. Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in an email that she had wanted to give the family time to grieve by themselves but would be willing to talk to them as the investigation into Chiwengo's death continues.
"This is a tragic loss of life and my heart aches as they say goodbye today," the mayor added in a statement. "I can imagine their frustration in wanting answers to questions they have regarding the details of this devastating accident. The Police Department is working closely with the State's Attorney's Office on their criminal investigation to determine exactly what happened that night."
Chiwengo came to the United States in 2002, leaving her native Democratic Republic of Congo.
Her brother, Joe Samalenge, presided over an "African section" of the funeral, translating between English and French throughout. Samalenge described hearing the news of his sister's death and being stunned, unable to cry or do anything else. But he said at that moment he "felt the presence of the Lord in a special way."
"When I thought she wasn't ready, he knew. He was God," Samalenge added first in English and then in French. "She's just as peaceful as Jesus Christ."
In Africa, Chiwengo had been an accomplished business woman, importing used cars and other goods from Asia, according to an obituary prepared by her family. She spoke three languages before learning English in the United States and traveled to China, Thailand and Dubai, as well as to many other countries in Africa.
Since coming to America, Chiwengo had worked less high-powered jobs — she was a housekeeper at a DoubleTree by Hilton when she died. But Parrish said that she was carefully planning a second phase in her life.
Jacques Chiwengo, another brother, said his sister was equally at ease with corporate bosses, government ministers and maids. And when she had no money or anything material to give, Chiwengo said she offered the thing that was most beautiful — "le plus beau" — her smile.
A banner on the wall of the church read "He who sings, prays twice," and Chiwengo's mourners heeded the advice.
During one song in Swahili, the third language employed in the services, members of Chiwengo's family stood as tears streamed down the faces of some, while others yodeled or raised their hands in praise.
"Thank you, Jesus," Samalenge said when the song was done. "We believe that Angel is worshiping you right now."