Update (March 3, 2019): Baltimore Police on Sunday announced they had arrested Jacquelyn Smith’s husband and stepdaughter in her death. Read the latest here.
Keith and Jacquelyn Smith danced Friday night at the American Legion on Madison Street in Baltimore, where they had brought his daughter Shavon to celebrate her 28th birthday.
Hours later, about 12:30 a.m., the 52-year-old Harford County man found himself calling 911 and rushing Jacquelyn, 54, to the emergency room. She had been stabbed by a man through their rolled-down car window after giving money to a woman panhandling in the rain in East Baltimore, he said.
Jacquelyn Smith, an electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, had her necklace and pocketbook snatched by the woman and the man, who approached under the guise of thanking her for giving the woman money, her husband said. She died two hours after they arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he said.
The pair ran away, but the woman paused long enough to say something, Keith Smith said.
“This girl actually said, ‘God bless you’ ” after the man stabbed Jacquelyn, he said.
Mayor Catherine Pugh told members of the City Council at a working lunch Monday that she had spoken with Keith Smith. The council paused to acknowledge Jacquelyn Smith, among others who have died, in a moment of silence during its Monday meeting.
"You've got people who've got warm hearts who want to roll down their windows and give to people," the mayor said. "This incident that occurred this past weekend is unconscionable."
As Baltimore Police cadets canvassed the Johnston Square neighborhood Monday afternoon near the site of the stabbing — East Chase and Valley streets — interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle called the killing “a heinous murder.”
Detectives do not yet have any leads on the pair’s identities, he said.
“They’re using this ruse as panhandlers to get the attention of their would-be victims,” Tuggle said. “We also want to caution the public about engaging with panhandlers and recognizing that not all of them have honest intent. Not all of them have real need.”
Keith Smith said the woman appeared to be holding a baby and had a cardboard sign that said “Please Help me feed my Baby.” Although he was reluctant to open the window late at night, he said, his wife held money out from the front passenger seat because she “felt moved to give her some money.”
Smith, who is from Baltimore and whose daughter lives on Valley Street, now wants to get a law passed in his wife’s memory banning panhandling.
The Baltimore City Code already prohibits soliciting money “from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle that is in traffic on a public street, whether in exchange for cleaning the vehicle’s windows or otherwise.”
“Something needs to be done, because now you don’t know whether or not you’re going to give and this person’s going to take your life or they’re going to say thank you,” Smith said Monday. “There are some desperate people. They don’t need help; they’re trying to hurt you.”
Councilman Robert Stokes, who represents the district where the incident occurred, said the stabbing would deter people from aiding people seeking help — but he acknowledged that keeping people from panhandling would be difficult.
"It's going to be hard now for people to roll their windows down," Stokes said. "A lot of people are not going to give."
Asked what a new police commissioner might be able to do to stop similar violence in the future, Stokes said he wasn't sure because of the limits placed on police by the federal consent decree.
"How do you move people from off the corners? Maybe the ACLU will come in … so we've got to be careful how we do that," Stokes said. "I think the consent decree has made it very hard. I guess some of the officers feel like they've got to be careful how they engage people because they don't want no lawsuits. They don't want to get terminated."
But Stokes said he wasn't making a direct link between Smith's stabbing and the consent decree, calling the crime an "isolated incident."
Kevin Lindamood, president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, said he was horrified to hear of the killing and concerned it could further stigmatize homelessness.
“Obviously this is a horrible incident and a crime,” Lindamood said. “As with any crime, we shouldn’t attribute the actions of an individual to an entire group of people. We don’t say that someone from a bank embezzling money means that all bankers are crooked.”
“The broader realities of homelessness and the conditions that lead people to beg publicly are also tragedies, and I think we have to be very mindful not to lump everybody into a single category,” he added. “Out of a tragedy like this I would encourage us all to redouble our work towards social justice.”
Bishop Roger Tatuem and his wife, Pastor Miriam Tatuem, of the Churchville congregation Helping Hands Ministries, said Jacquelyn and Keith Smith had been members of their church for about four years, and they taught weekly Christian education classes for new members.
They struggled to believe the news that Jacquelyn Smith had been killed.
“She was a very strong lady, very strong personality,” Miriam Tatuem said of the Providence, R.I., native. “If she believed in something, she believed in it — she was one of those kind of people who was ride-or-die.”
Miriam Tatuem said Jacquelyn Smith also volunteered on the church’s hospitality committee, where she would help serve church functions, including lunches after funeral services.
She recalled a time Smith helped Tatuem’s son and daughter-in-law prepare for a housewarming party. When they were running behind, Smith jumped into the kitchen and began helping her daughter-in-law with last-minute needs.
“She was always a good helper. Whatever her little hands found to do, she would do it,” Miriam Tateum said. “She was a very giving person.”
Roger Tatuem said Smith helped him edit his forthcoming book. She gave him feedback throughout the summer to help him strengthen “The Sound of Trouble,” he said.
“She really got me motivated to get on and finish it,” he said.
Tandra Ridgley, an Aberdeen resident and fellow Helping Hands congregant, also knew the Smiths from church. Ridgley described Jacquelyn Smith as faithful and generous, and she recalled the Smiths taking friends out on a large boat they owned.
“I’m just really sorry to see this because she didn’t deserve that,” Ridgley said. “The church — we’re just really heartbroken about it.”
Ridgely said, above all, she’ll remember Jacquelyn Smith’s kindness.
“She was genuinely a sweet lady, she really was, and very encouraging,” she continued. “When my mother passed, she would always tell me, ‘Hang in there.’ ”
Keith Smith scrolled through photos of him and his wife on his phone Monday afternoon — at the dance Friday night, after voting in the recent election, smiling in the Inner Harbor. The couple had celebrated their fourth anniversary in July.
On the night of her death, he said, they again moved to the first song they had danced to at their wedding, John Legend’s “All of Me.”
“My wife was my life,” Smith said.