Armed with new autopsy findings, Baltimore Police investigators returned Monday to the scene where Det. Sean Suiter was fatally shot last week and said they had found “additional, significant” evidence.
“I’m very encouraged by the recovery of this evidence,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Monday, declining to elaborate on what was discovered. “I think it’s going to help us identify the killer.”
Davis said the new findings were the result of an autopsy completed over the weekend, which formally ruled Suiter’s death as a homicide by shooting.
The commissioner appeared upbeat about the progress of the case, despite the investigation’s taking longer than usual for an agency accustomed to quickly identifying killers of its own. Since at least the 1960s, the city police department has never gone so long without identifying a suspect in the killing of a police officer.
Davis also said the discovery of new evidence bolstered his decision to keep the area around the Harlem Park crime scene locked down through last weekend, which had prompted criticism from some residents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Residents said their IDs were checked as they came and went from their homes.
“I would much rather endure some predictive criticism from the ACLU and others about that decision, than endure a conversation with Detective Suiter’s wife about why we didn’t do everything we possibly could do to recover evidence and identify the person who murdered her husband,” Davis said.
On Monday evening a small group congregated at the corner of West Franklin and Schroeder streets, getting as close as they could to the yard where Suiter was fatally shot. Police caution tape and patrol cars still blocked off some of the streets surrounding the crime scene. For a sixth night in a row, blue and red lights reflected off nearby Harlem Park rowhomes.
The group came to “pour love and light” into the neighborhood, said Baltimore Ceasefire organizer Erricka Bridgeford, and to “turn a murder location into sacred ground.”
Bridgeford, 45, plans to take similar actions at the scene of every murder in Baltimore. Along with other activists, she lit sage to cleanse the area, a process called “smudging.”
“Baltimore deserves light and love in the middle of all this darkness,” she said.
Police have said Suiter, 43, was investigating a still-unsolved homicide from December of last year when he saw a suspicious person in a vacant lot in the 900 block of Bennett Place. Suiter was shot once in the head, rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead the next day.
The reward for tips leading to an arrest and conviction remains at $215,000, which is believed to be an unprecedented amount in Maryland.
At least three shots were fired from Suiter’s own service weapon, which was recovered from the scene, police said. All recovered shell casings were matched to Suiter’s gun, but Davis cautioned that that does not necessarily mean no other gun was fired.
No suspect description has been given to the public since hours after the shooting, when Davis described the suspect as a black man wearing a black and white jacket.
He declined to say what the detective who was with Suiter has told investigators. The partner has not been publicly identified.
The crime scene was secured through the weekend because Suiter’s body was not taken for an autopsy until Saturday afternoon as his organs were donated. Davis said autopsies often provide new theories about the crime, including bullet trajectory and the shooter’s proximity to the victim.
Though investigators scoured the rowhome-sized lot where Suiter was shot, Davis said it was “not unique” to find evidence several days after a crime occurs.
Davis also confirmed that two people had been taken into custody, questioned, and released in the investigation. They were taken into custody after a raid in the 700 block of Dolphin Street, not far from the crime scene. They were not identified.
On Monday about 8:30 a.m., the only signs of the days-long crime scene were a squad car parked near the lot where Suiter was shot and a memorial around the corner on Schroeder Street. Crime scene tape no longer blocked access to the sidewalks.
But around noon, police began putting yellow tape back up and were looking at the dirt lot anew. Davis said it could be closed off for another day.
Later that evening, Bridgeford walked along the police tape on Franklin Street, burning sage. About a dozen others knelt on the nearby sidewalk, arms outstretched toward the vacant lot where Suiter was shot.
As he fell to his knees, Darnyle Wharton prayed for peace. He prayed for his city, for this neighborhood, for Suiter’s family and for everyone who knew him.
“I know it’s really hard for them right now,” said Wharton, 48. “He left that morning and they expected him to come home. And he didn’t. And he won’t again.”
Suiter’s daughter set up an online fundraiser — the authenticity of which was verified by both GoFundMe and the Police Department — on Sunday to collect donations to the family. It had raised more than $30,000 by Monday afternoon.
Police said funeral arrangements were not final but were expected to be announced next week.
Police asked anyone with information to call 911, the homicide unit at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.
Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Talia Richman contributed to this article.