2 officers, fatally shot on duty four decades apart, to be honored among Fallen Heroes

Jeannie Buchman Baumgart still remembers the line of Baltimore city police cars that stretched up the road as she approached her family’s home in Pikesville.

She had just played the best softball game of her high school career, she said, but her older brother, who attended every game, was not there to see it. When she got to her front door, another family member broke the news: Her brother Norman "Fred" Buchman, a 24-year-old Baltimore city police officer, had been shot and killed with his own weapon while on patrol in Northwest Baltimore.

Forty-five years later, Buchman and Baltimore Police Det. Sean Suiter, who was fatally shot in November, will be among those honored Friday at the annual Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium. The ceremony will honor Suiter and four other officers and firefighters from across the state who died while in the line of duty over the past year, as well as Buchman and two Anne Arundel County firefighters who died before the ceremony first began in 1986.

“All I’ve always wanted for my brother was to never be forgotten. It makes it more special for him because after all these years, they remember,” Buchman Baumgart said. She plans to attend Friday’s ceremony, where a bench overlooking the memorial will be dedicated to her brother.

Organizers said Suiter’s wife, Nicole Suiter, is also expected to attend.

“I feel for his family. You hurt for them,” Buchman Baumgart said. In recent months, she said, news reports of his death investigation have brought up painful memories.

“Every time I see him on TV, I relive it. … It makes you hurt” for Suiter’s family, she said.

Suiter, an 18-year veteran of the force, was shot once in the head with his own service weapon in a vacant West Baltimore lot in November under unclear circumstances. Despite the massive response, which included the department’s partially shutting down and cordoning off the Harlem Park neighborhood where the shooting occurred for several days last fall, it has remained unsolved months later.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said he’s met with Suiter’s wife several times since, including recently to discuss the Independent Review Board, made up of policing experts, who are going to assess the department’s response and its investigation of the shooting.

“It was tough talking with her,” De Sousa told IRB members during their first meeting at police headquarters last week. “My heart is still with her. We need to continue to pray for her each and every day, her family,” he said.

Suiter did not respond to a message Wednesday.

Some in the department believe Sean Suiter was killed; others believe he committed suicide. The department’s investigation remains open.

Organizers for the annual Fallen Heroes event said they were aware of the theory that Suiter might have killed himself — but said it did not affect their plans in honoring the homicide detective.

“Any emergency responder who basically sacrifices his or her life in the line of duty is due the utmost recognition and appreciation from the whole community. We consider it our honor to continue to provide that,” said Jack Mitchell, president of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

He said that departments from around the state will submit the names of officers or firefighters whom they determine to have died on duty. Baltimore police, he said, submitted Suiter’s name.

“At this point, the Baltimore city police department has deemed it was a murder, not a suicide,” he said.

The Fallen Heroes Memorial honors 181 public safety officials, 71 of them buried at the memorial. Suiter’s remains are among those interred there.

Along with Suiter, the ceremony Friday will recognize Montgomery County firefighter Charles “Rick” Gentilcore, who was found unresponsive by co-workers at his Burtonsville station; Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Sander B. Cohen, who was struck while aiding a driver who had crashed along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County; Prince George’s County Police Sgt. Mujahid A. Ramzziddin, who was fatally shot while responding to a neighbor’s domestic despite, and LaVale Volunteer Fire Assistant Chief Christopher C. Pryor, who collapsed and died after returning from responding to a vehicle crash in Cumberland.

This year’s ceremony is also honoring volunteer firefighter George Driggers Jr., who was just 16, and Patrick Bauer, 21, who both died in 1976 battling a three-alarm Brooklyn Park rowhouse fire.

Buchman Baumgart’s brother was killed with his own service weapon on April 6, 1973. Buchman was making a “routine ownership check” of a 1970 Lincoln Continental when he called into a dispatcher he was in pursuit of the vehicle, according to a Baltimore Sun article. The chase ended in the 2500 block of Quantico Ave. in Northwest Baltimore, where police officials said Michael S. Garland, 23 at the time, shot the officer six times in the head with his own gun.

A witness later testified at Garland’s trial that he tussled with the officer after they got out of their cars, and then, the witness said, Garland grabbed Buchman’s gun and shot the officer.

Garland’s mother and older brother both told The Sun at the time that police had harassed her son; Garland’s older brother Elvin Garland said Buchman stopped Garland multiple times before the shooting. The department, at the time, confirmed Buchman had stopped Garland days before the shooting for a marijuana arrest.

Buchman was buried at the Woodlawn cemetery. Buchman Baumgart said she remembers being struck by how many strangers approached members of her family, thanking them for her brother’s random acts of kindness — such as a patrol car trunk full of toys for children at Christmas, or a followup visit to homes where he had previously responded to calls.

The commander of the Northwestern District, where Buchman was assigned, told The Sun at the time that he was “a kid that didn’t just do his job— he cared. He became involved in the community in a helpful, positive way.”

Garland was later convicted by jurors of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years. He was released on Christmas Eve in 1996, a state corrections spokesman said.

A woman outside Garland’s home on Penhurst Ave. in Northwest Baltimore declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, and Garland himself did not respond to a request for comment.

Because she was just a teenager, Buchman Baumgart said, she didn’t follow the case too closely. In years past, she said, the pain hasn’t even gone away, but “you learn to cope with it. It doesn’t get any easier.”

Each year, she’s attended the Fallen Heroes event to honor the growing list of families who have suffered a loss like hers.

But this year, it’s her brother who will be honored.

Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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