After a particularly difficult year for first responders in Maryland, who faced the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the effects of rising gun violence as well as the myriad daily dangers of their jobs, the the state’s Fallen Heroes Day in 2022 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 shot to death while sitting in his patrol car on December 16, and three city firefighters killed in the collapse of a townhouse in January.
The ceremony took place Friday afternoon at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium. Heavy rains persisted throughout the event, a reflection of the grim occasion. Colleagues, family and friends of fallen first responders gathered in a tent as Color Guard officers stood outside in formation, faces stoic, water dripping from their hat brims.
Organizers said 2022 was the deadliest year on record for first responders in Maryland since at least 1976, when the Fallen Heroes Memorial was established and the annual celebration began.
“We call them heroes, but to them they were just doing their job — a job where they put themselves in harm’s way every day and pay the ultimate sacrifice to protect us all,” Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford said in comments. remarks during the ceremony. “There will never be enough words to truly thank them for their service.”
They never wavered even as the pandemic made their work more dangerous, he said.
Seven of the 15 winners have died of COVID.
“This has been a year where we’ve seen tragedy upon tragedy,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said. “We’ve never asked more of our first responder heroes.”
The rain came down harder when local musician Jon Wikstrom performed his original song “Be My Angel,” which has become a staple of the annual event.
Afterwards, state and local authorities paid individual tributes to loved ones of deceased 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 hospital a week later.
Known as “West Side Mom,” Holley made a big impact — on fellow law enforcement and civilians alike — during her short time as an officer. She left a job as a practical nurse to complete the Baltimore police training academy in her late thirties, telling friends and family that she wanted to make a difference.
“She had a sincere commitment to making her town a better place,” emcee Mary Beth Marsden said before paying tribute to Holley’s mother. Her “angelic voice and warm presence” brought people to healing even on their worst days, Marsden said.
Police have charged two men in her death – and a second murder on the same day – but their motive remains unclear.
The following month, Baltimore’s first responder community suffered another loss.
Firefighters responded to a fire in a townhouse in the Mount Clare neighborhood of southwest Baltimore on the morning of Jan. 24. Minutes after they entered the building, it partially collapsed, killing the lieutenants. Paul Butrim and Kelsey Sadler and firefighter-paramedic Kenneth Lacayo.
Last minute alerts
As it happens
Be informed of the latest news as it happens and informed about other must-see content with our free news alerts.
Nearly three months later, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators announced their determination that the fire was incendiary, a definition that includes fires started intentionally and those considered accidental. but as a direct result of other criminal activities. This discovery means that the deaths have been classified as homicides, but no arrests have been made.
The three firefighters are remembered for their courage and compassion.
A 16-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department, Butrim received an award for bravery after saving a child from a 2015 apartment fire. He began 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 at the ceremony, noting his quick wit and affinity for practical jokes. He was 37 years old.
Saddler, 33, had served 15 years as a Baltimore firefighter and paramedic. She had also served with the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Company in Phoenix. She displayed a “great level of determination, energy and grace” as well as “that unique blend of fearlessness and loving spirit,” Marsden said.
And Lacayo joined the Baltimore City Fire Department in 2014. His nickname quickly became “Fireman Kenny” because of his intense dedication to the job, Marsden said. He was also 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 of COVID-19. Sheffield, 60, was known for his generosity, which he often showed in his willingness to mentor younger colleagues.