Officer William J. "Billy" Martin would have understood, his family said last night, why they chose to commemorate the first anniversary of his death at the spot in West Baltimore where he was gunned down.
"This place, this street, this community was a very important place in Billy's life," his wife, Kim Ann Martin, told about 150 family members, residents and police officers who gathered in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"I don't want this community and others like it to be forgotten," Mrs. Martin said. "Good people who [live here] experience terrible trials every day."
Mrs. Martin said it was difficult to return to the Woodland Apartments stairwell where her 37-year-old husband was killed as he was responding to a call that drug dealers were operating there. Officer Martin was shot twice in the head as he walked up the stairs. He died a few hours later.
But sharing their grief with the community will help her and her two sons -- 16-year-old William and 4-year-old Patrick -- make some sense of his death, she said.
"When Billy died [the community] grieved together, and they have survived together," she said. "Without them, I might not have survived."
Kim Sykes was one of many community residents who attended the vigil and sought out Mrs. Martin to offer her support.
"My sister lives in this building," she told Mrs. Martin. "I came to say I'm sorry it happened. I live in a high-rise with my kids and I'm scared to come out every day. But I'm working to get off welfare and to get my kids out of there."
Three bunches of blue and white carnations tied with ribbons were laid at the entrance to the building where Officer Martin was killed and his partner, Herman L. Brooks, was shot. Then Mrs. Martin lighted a candle and passed the flame to candles held by Billy Martin's parents and on to the rest of the crowd.
Robert Douglas, chaplain for the Fraternal Order of Police, compared the candlelight to Officer Martin's influence on the neighborhood.
"We have seen how starting with one small candle can illuminate the whole immediate area," he said. Billy Martin's father, Leo, said the ceremony brought back painful memories but also a sense of pride.
"I'm so proud to think that the people are remembering Billy tonight. He was a great guy and I miss him," he said. "It really does help to see that the community is with us and that he hasn't died in vain."
Police Capt. Michael J. Andrew of the Central District, where Officer Martin worked, praised Mrs. Martin's decision to return to the neighborhood her husband patrolled.
"Even if it has an effect on one person, it shows that we're not hiding," he said.
There was little talk last night of the two men arrested and charged with Officer Martin's death. Shawn M. Woodson, 20, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death earlier this year. Charges against the other suspect, Taavon Hall, 21, were dropped.
The people of all ages who gathered last night were sure Billy Martin would have been pleased to see three neighborhood boys handing out candles to the mourners and pausing to think about his life.
"The police officer was trying to do his best to stop drugs in our community," said Carl Jennings, 13.