Although her work was cleaning up after people all day, Earlene McFadden always told her family that she loved her job as a custodian at Calverton Middle School because she liked being around children.
And it was there, in one of the classrooms, that she was fatally wounded by a man with a knife.
Mrs. McFadden, 57, died Friday after being attacked about 5 p.m. in a classroom in the West Baltimore school where police believe she surprised a burglar who may have been hoping to steal money raised by children in a candy sale.
The man, who police said was probably startled by the custodian, stabbed her repeatedly in the chest and throat. The killer ran out of the building and was still being sought by police last night.
"We always had problems now and then at the school. But never anything like this. Not a murder, right there in a classroom," said Dorothy Harmon, a good friend of Mrs. McFadden's who retired recently after working 20 years as a custodian at Calverton Middle.
Another friend and former custodian, Sara Fleming, said, "I never had a cross [word] with her. She was a very fine Christian woman who loved kids. Who would do this, and at a school?"
Police said the killer probably had entered the school to steal something. School officials said the classroom where the stabbing occurred had been the collection point for a school-wide fund-raising project.
A total of about $1,000 was raised, but the money was turned into the school's central office each day.
Mrs. McFadden, who lived in the 2000 block of Hollins St., worked nights cleaning the school. Her sister, Blondell Alston, said it was a job "she really loved. She liked working at a school, to be around the kids."
Ms. Alston said her sister had moved to Baltimore from Lake City, S.C. in 1953, to be with her husband, Leroy. She had worked at Calverton Middle for 18 years.
More than a dozen family members were crowded into Mrs. McFadden's tiny rowhouse last night. Plans were being made for the funeral tomorrow, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was on the television, speaking about the tragedy and saying police are on the case.
Towanda McFadden, 24, Mrs. McFadden's only child, said the family wants to see her mother's killer arrested, "but that's not going to bring anyone back."
Faculty and staff at the school in the 1100 block of Whitmore Ave. talked with students yesterday an attempt to help them understand and cope with the violent act. The murder ironically came less than two weeks after Baltimore's Safe Schools Summit.
Administrators started the day with an electronic assembly with Principal Frances Ellington over the Channel One broadcast system. Teachers also had lesson plans, designed to allow students to examine their feelings about the tragedy.
And, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and other district officials went to the school as part of a crisis-response team deployed in such incidents.
"We have to make a point to the community that our students need to feel safe," said Dr. Hattie Washington, area assistant superintendent. "Students need to feel safe and teachers need to feel safe."
Dr. Washington said Mrs. McFadden was well-liked by students, often reminding them that "cleanliness is next to Godliness" and "cleanliness is who you are."
"The students loved her and saw her as a kind and giving person," Dr. Washington said. "She was more than a custodian, tTC she was part of the school family, really a part of the instructional staff."
The eighth-grade students, in whose wing Mrs. McFadden worked, were especially familiar with her. One boy reminisced about her yesterday in an essay that was forwarded to her family.
"I am really going to miss Mrs. McFadden and her smiling face when she made me laugh, saying 'This is my lavatory, you need to keep a clean lavatory,' " wrote the boy, an eighth-grader not given to being openly sentimental, according to Ms. Ellington.
"I will miss her. [She and her family] will always be there, truly and deeply in my heart."