Before she was killed at work by an angry social service client, Tanja Brown-O'Neal, 29, had told confidantes that her job was getting to her.
"The people were really hard and they'd say bad things and she'd leave in tears," says a friend, Sharon Thomas-Parker, also 29. "That's why she wanted to go back to school and get a better job."
She never got the chance.
On Monday morning, an agitated unemployed man walked into the Rosemont Multipurpose Center in West Baltimore, where Brown-O'Neal worked as an income-maintenance worker, and complained that he didn't get his food stamps.
While she was interviewing the man, he pulled a large butcher knife from his sock or shoe and stabbed her repeatedly in the chest and shoulder, police say. She died shortly afterward.
A security guard who saw the attacker shot him in the left shoulder and detained him until police arrived.
Police charged Arnold Bates, 34, of the 1900 block of W. Fayette St., with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond.
Meanwhile, Brown-O'Neal's family is preparing to say good-bye.
There will be a viewing from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the March funeral establishment, 4300 Wabash Ave. The funeral will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Bethel A.M.E. Church at Druid Hill Avenue and Lanvale Street.
"To characterize Tanja, she was a very strong, single parent who was very determined, hard-working," says Thomas-Parker.
At one time, Brown-O'Neal had received social services assistance to support herself and her son, friends say.
"She knew what it was like to go down to social services and ask for help," Thomas-Parker says. "I guess she empathized with her clients."
Tanja Brown-O'Neal loved helping people, but "she didn't like it there [at Social Services]. The kind of people she was serving were desperate and hard to deal with," says a friend who asks that her name not be used.
The friend says Brown-O'Neal was a fun-loving woman who belonged to Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She'd wear the organization's colors, pink and green, every chance she got, the friend says.
Meanwhile, the tragedy has struck Thomas-Parker in a peculiar way. She had written a letter of recommendation for Brown-O'Neal so she could get the job at Rosemont seven months ago.
"I thought about it over and over," Thomas-Parker says. "Professionally, no . . . I don't regret writing it."
Brown-O'Neal was a counselor who received her bachelor's in psychology from Coppin State College in 1989.
Friends say Brown-O'Neal wanted to go to the University of Baltimore to complete graduate work in psychology or public administration, so she could get a better job and improve life for her 4-year-old son, Marcus.
"She loved Marcus to death," one friend says. "Oh God, that was her everything."
Brown-O'Neal and her husband had separated after being married for less than a year, friends say.
Thomas-Parker, now coordinator of admissions at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, says friends have established a fund for Marcus' benefit.
Donations can be mailed to the Tanja Brown-O'Neal Foundation Fund in care of Cora Vaughan, Harbor Bank of Maryland, 21 W. Fayette St., Baltimore 21201.