Baltimore officer who joined police because she believed ‘cops needed to be better’ laid to rest

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Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley joined the force only two years ago, but her colleagues and the community she served had taken notice of her dedication and passion already.

The officer who was fatally shot while on duty last month decided to join the force later in her life, overcoming struggles to pass the physical fitness tests, in hopes of helping make her home city a better place. She quickly become a revered member of the force.


“She had this preconceived notion that cops needed to be better, and they needed to demonstrate better for the Black community, and she did that,” said Holley’s daughter, who did not give her name but spoke briefly at her mother’s funeral service Tuesday.

Holley, 39, who was gunned down in her police cruiser very early one morning last month as she worked an overtime shift in Curtis Bay, was remembered Tuesday at the service at the Baltimore Convention Center and buried at King Memorial Park in Windsor Mill.


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and law enforcement officers from across the state and as far as Texas and Illinois were among the hundreds of mourners who came to the downtown service to pay their respects.

Uniformed officers, along with family members and others from the city, slowly filed into the large ballroom before the service, where Holley’s casket remained open and she wore her police uniform. Large screens showed pictures of the officer smiling with her children and other family, as well as several pictures of her in uniform in the street.

“While our entire state grieves today such a senseless and tragic loss, we can’t help but be inspired by Keona’s incredible life,” Hogan said. “She knew the many challenges, the risks, but Keona loved the city of Baltimore and she wanted to a positive force for change in her hometown.”

Later Tuesday afternoon, the funeral procession arrived at King Memorial Park around 4 p.m., with a line of police cars with lights flashing snaking through the cemetery’s hills. Hundreds of officers lined the pathway where the white hearse stopped. An American flag covered her casket. As the bagpipes began to play and pallbearers marched her to the grave, a formation of geese flew low overhead.

Holley, a married mother of four children and grandmother of one grandson, grew up in West Baltimore, and affectionately became known as “Mom from the West Side,” while working as a police officer.

Officer Keona Holley was laid to rest on Tuesday in front of family and colleagues who remembered her as a dedicated mother who wanted to make Baltimore a better place.

She once was a member of the Edmondson Village Steppers Marching Band, and graduated from Edmondson-Westside High School, according to an obituary prepared by her family. She later earned her certification to become a nursing assistant at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, and worked at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a state psychiatric facility in Jessup.

Holley left her job at Perkins to become an officer to help her community, her friends said. Holley said in a 2020 interview with news website Insider that “the community needs Baltimore City police officers that’s not just here for a paycheck. They’re here because they care.”

Scott commended Holley’s drive to make the city better.


“She didn’t wait on the sidelines. She stepped up,” he said. “We will honor by continuing her commitment to make Baltimore safer and our police department better.”

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison also spoke of Holley’s decision to change careers to better her city. He said she chose to pursue a calling that required her to run toward danger, at a time in her life when she could have been looking for something easier.

When she first tried to join the department, she ran into obstacles but didn’t give up; rather, “she doubled down and worked harder,” Harrison said.

Police have charged two men in Holley’s killing, and have said evidence connects them to a second murder the same day, but they have provided no information about a possible motive.

“We don’t know why they did this,” Harrison said last month when announcing the arrests of Elliott M. Knox, 31, and Travon Shaw, 32.

Holley was on life support at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center for a week before dying Dec. 23.


Investigators connected Knox and Shaw to the Dec. 16 killing through security camera footage from the Curtis Bay area and license plate readers to identify Knox as the owner of a vehicle seen fleeing the scene.

Baltimore police officers wheel the casket of fellow police officer Keona Holley after a service at The Baltimore Convention Center.

Police said Knox, who was taken into custody shortly after the shooting, confessed to being there but said Shaw did the shooting.

Investigators said they tied both men to a second homicide, about an hour after Holley was shot. Police said Justin Johnson, 27, was killed in the 600 block of Lucia Avenue in Southwest Baltimore, about a 20-minute drive from where Holley was shot.

Two guns have been recovered and ballistic evidence links them to both shootings, police said.

Court records show Shaw had been free on his own recognizance while awaiting trial in Baltimore County following a March 2020 arrest for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Knox had been convicted of three armed robberies in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Holley is the first Baltimore Police officer to die in the line of duty since Det. Sean Suiter died in 2017. The department, after an outside review, concluded his death was a suicide. But the detective’s family has maintained Suiter was murdered the day before he was supposed to testify before a federal grand jury against other officers in the sprawling Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal. His death remains classified as a homicide by the State Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said the case remains open.


While officers, firefighters and service members from around the state are routinely buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, Holley was buried at King Memorial Park, a cemetery in Windsor Mill that was first opened in the early 1970s to provide burials for Black families, at her family’s request. She was the first buried in a newly-built area for first responders there.

Among the speakers at Tuesday’s service was Holley’s shift commander, Lt. Curtis Worthy of the Southern District, where Holley had been assigned and quickly made an impact on her colleagues.

He recalled when she still was completing her field training, she and her sergeant immediately hit off. They shared a love of their “funny-looking dogs,” Worthy recalled.

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She loved cooking and quickly became known for the food that she would bring to the station house for her colleagues, such as cupcakes, and a recent Thanksgiving breakfast, that included pancakes, waffles, and shrimp and grits.

But Holley also was known as a hard worker, and was always quick to volunteer to work overtime when needed, Worthy said.

“She was an unbelievable hard worker” and “she loved people, especially the most vulnerable among us,” he said.


She aspired to become a member of the department’s Crisis Response Team that is specially trained to respond to mental health calls.

Recalling remarks from members of the community who came out to a recent vigil to celebrate her life, he said, “she brought healing to a community ravaged by gun violence and drug addiction.”

“She was adored by the community she served,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this story.