Ambushed Baltimore cop on life support described as devoted mom: 'Heart of an officer'

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An ambushed Baltimore police officer on life support is described as a dedicated mother, daughter and sister, as fundraising efforts continue following the overnight shooting attack. 

Officer Keonna Holley, a member of the force for two years, was shot and wounded at 1:35 a.m. Thursday morning in the 4400 block of Pennington Ave. 

Baltimore police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the officer was shot at her designated post while sat in her vehicle working an overnight shift in the high-crime area of Curtis Bay. 

Baltimore police Officer Keonna Holley was placed on life support after an ambush style shooting attack last week. 

“She truly exemplifies the heart of an officer that truly cares for the community that she serves and that’s not that she’s in the position that she is now. It’s the truth. It’s honestly the truth,” Christine Lamonica, who worked alongside Holley in Baltimore’s Southern District, told WBAL-TV. 

“I just want her to wake up and send her that text message to ask her to stop ignoring me you know,” Lamonica said. “She just always had a way of making you feel welcome. Always checking on you. Always being that person that wanted to know you were OK. And now she’s the one that’s not OK.”

Investigators say the shooter approached from behind and fired into the parked vehicle, which then accelerated and crashed. Holley was rushed to the University of Maryland Medical Center. 

Travon Shaw, 32, (left) and Elliot Knox, 31, (right) are both charged for the attempted murder of Officer Keonna Holley and the murder of Justin Johnson. 
(Baltimore Police)

Dr. Thomas Scalea of the Shock Trauma department said in an update Thursday evening that Holley is “critically ill,” had undergone “operative therapy” and remains in the ICU “on full life support measures.” 

Two arrests had been announced by Friday – and the same two suspects charged with wounding the officer have been pinned to a second shooting, the homicide of 38-year-old Justin Johnson, that happened about 10 miles away shortly after Holley was ambushed.  

Elliot Knox, 31, and Travon Shaw, 32, are both charged for the attempted murder of Officer Holley and for the murder of Johnson, which occurred in the 600 block of Lucia Ave. The homicide happened as investigators were still processing the shooting scene of Holley, Harrison said. 

“Justin is such a friendly guy and I don’t know him enough behind what he did personally, but he was always very friendly,” his neighbor, Ronda Vercammen, told WBAL. “He had a young daughter. A little baby girl, and she just loved him.”

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police tweeted Saturday that the union was collecting donations via check or credit card for Holley and her family. 

Baltimore Police Department’s Education and Training staff are collecting donations through Venmo for a Visa gift card to be given to Holley and her family. Their communications director tweeted Sunday that $1,545 had been collected so far, already surpassing the goal of reaching $1000 by Monday.

“The person who did this to my sister, you are a coward,” Lawanda Sykes, the elder sister of Officer Holley, said at a press conference Thursday. “You tried to snuff her and take something that you can’t. She is stronger than you will ever be.” 

“Keona Holley is my baby sister. What I need this city to know and understand is before she was a police officer, she’s a mother. She’s a daughter. She’s a sister. She’s a woman,” the officer’s sister continued. “She took on this job, she took on this responsibility. This has been a life-long goal of my sister to serve the Baltimore City Police Department. My sister dedicated herself to this job. She went in early. She stayed later. She spent countless hours away from her children to serve the community in the southern district.” 

In appealing for anyone with information to come forward, Sykes decried “Baltimore, we are killing ourselves” and described how her own children cannot safely play outside. Officer Holley is a mother to two daughters, who stood beside their aunt. 

“My sister is fighting for her life,” Sykes said Thursday. “I ask that you keep her covered. That you pray for her. That you pray for us. Understand that my sister, she’s the ying to my yang. All that I’ve ever known. She’s the other part of me. And I refuse to give that up.”

Speaking at a second press conference Friday, the police commissioner outlined how Baltimore police’s regional auto theft task force on Thursday located the vehicle homicide investigators identified as being linked to the shooting of Officer Holley. It was found through an extensive area canvas and a great deal of video footage that was recovered. 

A person of interest was also identified, located and transported to the homicide section for an interview. Investigators learned the identity of a second suspect who was taken into custody. 

As investigators were processing the shooting scene of Officer Holley, another shooting homicide occurred in the 600 block of Lucia Ave., he said.  

A Baltimore police officer posts himself near the intersection of W. North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore, MD, on Friday, April 17, 2020. 
(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“What we now know is both shootings are related, as we know now the perpetrators of Office Holley’s shooting, they then left that scene, went to Lucia Avenue and then committed that homicide of Justice Johnson,” Harrison said. “Our thoughts and prayers with his family, who we have spoken to as well.”

Two weapons were recovered believed to be used in both incidents, he said. 

“This week’s heinous incidents were another tragic reminder of the culture of violence that pervades Baltimore,” Harrison said Friday. “As I said last night, those who commit these violent, brazen and cowardly acts in our city will be held to account.

Harrison thanked local, state and federal partners who aided in the investigation and said he received a call from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who “is committing every resource available to help us” and congratulated the team their quick closure of the case. 

“In this moment, I cannot overstate how angry and disheartened we all are that we continue to have those in our community who are intent on committing violent acts, especially against law enforcement officers,” Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said Friday. “It is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it… We will have zero tolerance for those who seek to use violence and murder to settle their grievances and the criminals that do, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

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