After a particularly challenging year for Maryland first responders, who faced the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the impacts of rising gun violence along with the myriad everyday dangers of their jobs, the state’s 2022 Fallen Heroes Day ceremony honored a record number of men and women killed in the line of duty.
The 15 honorees included Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley, who was ambushed and fatally shot while sitting in her patrol car Dec. 16, and three city firefighters killed in a January rowhouse collapse.
Heavy rain persisted throughout the ceremony was held Friday afternoon at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, a reflection of the somber occasion. Colleagues, family and friends of the fallen first responders gathered under a tent while color guard officers stood outside in formation, their faces stoic, water dripping off the brims of their hats.
Organizers said 2022 was the deadliest year on record for Maryland first responders since at least 1976, when the Fallen Heroes Memorial was established and the annual observance began.
“We call them heroes but to them, they were simply doing their jobs — a job where they place themselves in harms way every day and pay the ultimate sacrifice to protect all of us,” Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said in remarks during the ceremony. “There will never be enough words that could truly thank them for their service.”
They never wavered, he said, even as the pandemic made their jobs more dangerous.
Seven of the 15 honorees died from COVID.
“This has been a year where we’ve seen tragedy upon tragedy,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said. “We’ve never asked so much of our first responder heroes.”
The rain fell harder as local musician Jon Wikstrom performed his original song “Be My Angel,” which has become a staple of the annual event.
Then state and local officials presented individual tributes to loved ones of the fallen first responders.
Holley, who joined the Baltimore police force in 2019, was sitting in her patrol car during an overnight shift in Curtis Bay on Dec. 16 when she suffered two gunshot wounds to the head. She died in the hospital a week later.
Known as the “Mom from the West Side,” Holley made a big impact — on law enforcement colleagues and civilians alike — during her short time as an officer. She left a nursing assistant job to complete the Baltimore police training academy in her late 30s, explaining to friends and family that she wanted to make a difference.
“She had a sincere commitment to making her city a better place,” said Mary Beth Marsden, the Fallen Heroes’ master of ceremonies, before presenting a tribute to Holley’s mom. Her “angelic voice and warm presence” brought people healing even in their worst days, Marsden said.
Police charged two men in her death — and a second murder the same day — but their motive remains unclear.
The following month, the Baltimore first responder community suffered more losses.
Firefighters responded to a rowhouse fire in Southwest Baltimore’s Mount Clare neighborhood the morning of Jan. 24. Minutes after they entered the building, it partially collapsed, killing Lts. Paul Butrim and Kelsey Sadler and firefighter-paramedic Kenneth Lacayo.
Almost three months later, investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced their determination that the fire was incendiary, a definition that includes fires intentionally set and those considered accidental but resulting directly from other criminal activity. That finding meant the deaths were classified as homicides, but no arrests have been made.
The three firefighters were remembered for their courage and compassion.
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A 16-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department, Butrim received an award for valor after saving a child in an apartment blaze in 2015. He started his career with the Joppa Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company in Harford County.
“To say Paul was an excellent firefighter who put others first would be an understatement,” Marsden said during the ceremony, noting his quick wit and affinity for practical jokes. He was 37.
Saddler, 33, had served 15 years as a Baltimore firefighter and paramedic. She also had served with the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Company in Phoenix. She displayed a “mighty level of determination, energy and grace” as well as “that unique mixture of fearlessness and a loving spirit,” Marsden said.
And Lacayo joined the Baltimore City Fire Department in 2014. His nickname quickly became “Fireman Kenny” because of his intense devotion to the job, Marsden said. He also was a life member of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, where he was named Paramedic of the Year and a top 10 emergency responder. He died at age 30.
Also among those honored was Lt. William Sheffield, a veteran Baltimore City firefighter who died from COVID-19. Sheffield, 60, was known for his generosity, which he often showed in his willingness to mentor younger colleagues.
Others honored included:
- Prince George’s County Fire Chief Nicholas C. Finamore died from complications of COVID-19 on Jan. 5, 2021.
- Beverly Good, director of field operations in Baltimore for the the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, died Jan. 28, 2021, due to COVID-19.
- Corporal Keith A. Heacook of the Delmar Police Department died April 28, 2021, from injuries sustained three days earlier, when he was assaulted after responding to a fight in progress.
- Battalion Chief Joshua D. Laird of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services died Aug. 11, from injuries sustained when he fell through a floor into a basement while fighting a two-alarm house fire in Ijamsville
- Firefighter/EMT Kelly W. Frye, a 26-year veteran of the City of Cumberland Fire Department, died Sept. 29 due to COVID-19.
- Battalion Chief Christopher D. Morlan, a 23-year veteran of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services, died Dec. 23 due to COVID-19.
- Police Officer Gregory M. Santangelo of the Frederick Police Department died on Dec. 28 as a result of complications from COVID-19.
- Paramedic/Firefighter Robert “Bobby” A. Jones of the Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company in Westminster died Jan. 20 due to complications from COVID-19.
- Firefighter/EMT Wayne V. Fisher, a nine-year veteran of the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Foundation, died from a sudden medical emergency on Feb. 6 while on duty at the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company.
- Firefighter Janet H. Holbrook, of the Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company in Harford County, died Feb. 22 after returning home from an emergency call.
The ceremony also honored two first responders who died before the Fallen Heroes ceremony started.
- Baltimore City Police Detective Richard Bosak was shot and killed on April 18, 1968, while attempting to arrest a suspect who had escaped custody.
- Anne Arundel County Firefighter John F. Balcer died April 9, 1970, when the fire truck he was in skidded and overturned while responding to a call of a house fire.