Instead of placing candles on McKenzie Elliott's fourth birthday cake in May, her mother helped unveil a street sign on Sunday to honor the 3-year-old killed by a stray bullet last year in North Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood.
While holding three balloons and a stuffed animal at the corner of Old York Road and McKewin Avenue, Nina Epps and a host of city leaders uncovered a red sign to signify "McKenzie Elliott Way."
It's the same intersection where a gunman fired bullets in what police called a short gunfight that shook the community in August when McKenzie died while standing on her porch. Two other people were wounded.
"It gives me a sense of hope," Epps said after unveiling the sign. "It cant bring me relief. I just want people to talk. I don't want people to ignore it and say, 'Oh, it's just a sign.'"
Amid 43 homicides in May — one of the deadliest months in decades — city, police and religious leaders called on the community to come forward with information to catch McKenzie's killer. Metro Crime Stoppers is offering a $7,800 reward.
Under the warm sun, many of the 100 people who attended the dedication held posters of McKenzie. City leaders urged people to end the "no stitching" mantra in Charm City.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called it a "very, very painful time in our city" and said people should be embarrassed since the shooter hasn't been arrested. She recalled the way McKenzie looked in her casket.
"Her face was so beautiful," the mayor said. "It looked like she was just sleeping. We know somebody knows what happened. Think about how she would be enjoying this beautiful day. … I need you to come forward. Tell us what you know about McKenzie Elliott's death."
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young added: "We've got to stop letting these people hold us hostage in our own community. It's us against them."
Last year, witnesses told police that a car drove up Old York Road, paused at the intersection of East 36th Street, and someone inside opened fire. Shots were returned, police said. Neighbors said they heard four to six shots, in rapid succession. The porch where McKenzie was sitting was four homes away from the street corner.
Within days of McKenzie's death, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts declared that the shooter would be caught within a week.
A person wanted by police for questioning about the shooting surrendered in early August on a probation violation warrant. The 21-year-old man Baltimore officials had called a suspect was released from jail in October after two months without being charged in the fatal shooting.
Batts said Sunday that the homicides and increased shootings "this month, this year" have caused lots of emotions and that he has let his "heart be seen." He urged the crowd to come together in a circle and wrap arms around one another.
"See what this feels like," Batts said, adding he didn't do it for the cameras. "This is what's gonna change the city."
Council member Mary Pat Clarke said Maj. Robert Smith and Capt. Richard Gibson of the Northern District came up with the idea to dedicate the street to McKenzie. Smith fought back tears when he talked about McKenzie. He then read a poem called "Little Angels."
The choir from the Church of the Blessed Sacrament led the procession of people to the intersection where the sign was covered. Once unveiled, white doves were released and flew overhead.