For more than two decades, Keona Holley kept in touch with her friend Linda Clark-Dickey.
The pair met when Holley was just 16 years old, and started working at a McDonald’s in Baltimore County, said Clark-Dickey, who served as her manager.
“She was the hardest little worker,” said Clark-Dickey, 55. “It stood right out to me, and I just stayed connected with her all through the years.”
She watched as Holley went on to work in health care and became a Baltimore Police officer, determined to aid those in need. And Clark-Dickey was among the countless friends flattened by the news that Holley, a 39-year-old mother of four, had been gravely injured by gunfire Dec. 16 while sitting in her patrol car during an overnight shift in Curtis Bay. She died a week later at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Dozens of mourners gathered Sunday at Holley’s viewing to remember the “Mom from the West Side,” a passionate and energetic community servant who joined Baltimore’s police force at 37, eager to make a difference. The line of well-wishers spilled down the block from the Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore on the dreary, rainy morning.
The viewing for Holley continues Monday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the N. Mount St. funeral home. A wake and funeral service in scheduled for 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Baltimore Convention Center. She is to be interred at King Memorial Park in western Baltimore County.
When Clark-Dickey heard about the shooting, she was “devastated.”
“The first thing I thought about were the four babies, and her newest grandbaby,” she said. “But I felt honored because of who she was and what she stood for.”
Rhonda Wilkins, 50, knew Holley as a young girl, when she was an integral part of life on West Baltimore’s North Grantley Street.
“We were only three doors apart. We was family on Grantley Street,” Wilkins said.
It felt like Holley — whom friends called KeKe — was everywhere, Wilkins said. The energetic youngster loved stopping by neighbors’ homes to say hello.
As she got older, it became clear Holley was a helper at heart. There was the time an elderly neighbor died and Holley carefully prepared her body for the mortician. There were all the times she took care of her young cousin after his father’s death. And there was her adopted dog Gizmo, a scrappy mutt others made fun of, but she adored.
“That was KeKe,” Wilkins said.
John Brown, 37, met Holley while working as an attendant at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a state psychiatric facility in Jessup.
“You knew she was walking in the room. She was a big presence,” Brown said. “She gave all that she was when she was working. Always.”
After several years at the hospital, Holley started talking about a career on the police force. Brown said he worried about Holley’s decision, and asked her why she was heading for such a dangerous career. He hasn’t forgotten her response.
“She said: ‘Brown, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.’”
The news of her death hit the Perkins hospital community hard, Brown said.
“It’s been a quiet, somber place since she’s gone. Because we still felt like she was a part of us, too,” he said.
Some who traveled to the viewing hadn’t known Holley at all, but felt linked to her because of her law enforcement service. Worcester County sheriff’s deputies Kenji Hara and Scott Griffin traveled Sunday morning from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to pay their respects.
“It could happen to any of us,” Hara said.
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“My wife, the one thing she likes to hear is that Velcro from our vests. She knows I’m home,” Griffin said.
The day after Holley was shot, police charged two men in the attack. Police said they used security camera footage and license plate readers to crack the case, and found ballistic evidence linking the pair to another fatal shooting — that of 38-year-old Justin Johnson in Yale Heights — just an hour after Holley was shot. Police have said the men’s motives were unclear.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who also attended Sunday’s viewing, said addressing violent crime in Baltimore was a “number one priority” for the state’s federal delegation. After incidents like Holley’s death, displays of unity remain important, Cardin said outside the funeral home Sunday morning.
“The weather’s not exactly ideal for this. People are lined up because they really want to show that the community’s together,” Cardin said. “We need to do more of this type of unity in our community, we need to bring communities together, and we’ve got to end this senseless killing.”
Inside the funeral home, mourners shared memories of Holley, scrawling messages beside photos of their dear friend and colleague.
As a harp’s gentle notes filled the room, Clark-Dickey picked up a bright red Sharpie. Next to a photo of Holley, smiling widely from beneath a set of braces, she wrote: “God bless your beautiful family, Baby Girl!!! You were an amazing mom and friend.”
Beside it was another note from a neighbor: “Grantley St. is not the same.”