Baltimore officials are raising money to increase the reward for information in the killing of 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott, who was struck by a stray bullet in Waverly last summer.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and roughly 20 other officials, including council members, a deputy police commissioner and the city state's attorney said at a Monday news conference that they hope to boost the standard $2,000 Metro Crime Stoppers reward in hopes that a witness will come forward and help close the case.
On the month of what would have been McKenzie's fourth birthday, city officials want to raise $3,000 to bring the reward to $5,000. Because the Metro Crime Stoppers organization is a 501(c) nonprofit, donations are tax-deductible, officials said.
"We are asking today for money — private-sector, deep-in-our-pockets money," Clarke said, "to help us increase the reward for the arrest of someone in the case of McKenzie Elliott."
The amount raised will be announced at a "Remembrance Day" for the toddler on May 31.
"This little 3-year-old girl was playing on her porch as the sun began to set when a drive-by shooting took her life," Clarke said. "It is a tragedy and it is a justice unresolved that we want resolved."
Two other people also were injured in the Aug. 1 drive-by shooting. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts vowed days later that an arrest would be made within the week, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said a suspect was in custody on unrelated charges.
That suspect, a 21-year-old, was released in October after two months in jail without being charged. Police said then that the focus of the investigation had "shifted" but included "substantial leads that we are continuing to follow."
Neither Rawlings-Blake nor Batts were present at Monday's news conference.
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said police have a "person of interest" but need to corroborate information. He would not say whether the person of interest was the suspect detained previously.
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said it is "sad that we have to raise funds to bring someone to justice."
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Baltimore "must do more" to find McKenzie's killer.
"I don't want to hear about the cold of the streets or the 'stop-snitching' mentality because that's a mentality that we have got to change," she said. "There are gray areas in almost every situation we face in life but one thing is clear, the murder of a 3-year-old girl is black-and-white."
Maj. Robert Smith, commander of the Northern District, became overcome with emotion as he spoke about a meeting about the case held on McKenzie's birthday earlier this month.
"I felt that pain. I felt that family's pain," he said. "I have a granddaughter the same age as McKenzie, and when we sat up there on York Road at Sacred Blessing Church and we went over some details, I just couldn't stop thinking about my granddaughter. I never saw this child, but it's in me. She's in me."
Councilman Bill Henry got a little choked up too when discussing the "pain of just trying to imagine" the loss of a child.
"But the next closest pain that I can imagine is knowing that my neighbors know who did it and are not telling anybody," he said.
A moment later, Henry spoke directly to any potential witnesses listening.
"This is not between you and the police," he said. "This is about you and your neighbors, McKenzie Elliott's family."
Checks may be made to Metro Crime Stoppers and sent to Blessed Sacrament Church, 4103 Old York Rd., which is collecting the money as escrow partner.