State will check safety of public servants after city buries its social services worker

June 25, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

A city remembered one of its own yesterday.

In a funeral service that drew 2,000 mourners to West Baltimore's Bethel A.M.E. Church, they paid their respects and bade farewell to Tanja Mertina Brown O'Neal, the 29-year-old city social services worker slain in her office June 17.

Hundreds passed by the open coffin and shared the grief of the family sitting in the church's front pew. A violinist played "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

Ms. O'Neal, known as "Min" to those close to her, was remembered for her compassion and pleasant personality. Mildred Bradshaw, who represented the Department of Social Services at the service, said Ms. O'Neal had left "this world of woe, of violence and turmoil and strife." She had gone "into the presence of the Lord, a place where food stamps are not needed."

Authorities believe an argument over food stamps cost Ms. O'Neal her life. The man charged with her slaying, Arnold Bates, 34, allegedly became incensed over a delay in his application, pulled out a knife and stabbed Ms. O'Neal in her office at the Rosemont Social Services Center. An hour later, Ms. O'Neal was dead, leaving behind her husband, Stephen O'Neal, to whom she had been married barely a year, and her son, Marcus Benson.

Yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told the congregation he had agonized over what the young child would need. He said he came to this conclusion: "The young man just needs love. . . . He is all of our sons now."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer also was among the mourners in the church. Later, he announced that he had directed Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, to begin a survey of security precautions in all state offices that serve the public. A final report is expected in 60 days.

At the funeral were Ms. O'Neal's friends from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and hundreds of social services workers. The workers stood at Ms. Bradshaw's request and applauded when she said they "stand in solidarity" against a system that allows the sick and mentally ill to roam the streets. The suspect in the slaying is believed to suffer from schizophrenia.

"Tanja has moved out of her old tent, from the imperfect to the perfect," said Ms. Bradshaw. "Farewell, Tanja."

Her words brought tears to many, as friends and relatives of Ms. O'Neal struggled to hold themselves together. Speakers quoted from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, where he asks, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Those words provided a theme for the service, called a "home-going celebration." The speakers sought to find a sense of victory in Ms. O'Neal's death and a belief that her spirit had conquered death.

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, who delivered the eulogy, said he was growing tired of funerals for people who spent their lives helping others and died not because of heart failure or cancer but because of murder and violence, the diseases eating away at society.

"Tanja Brown died because of people that were not concerned about the system," he said. His ringing voice often fell into a call-and-response rhythm, with the congregation responding with "Amen," "Hallelujah" and "Yes."

"Tanja was not a victim. She was a victor," the minister said; and he encouraged all to turn to someone and repeat the statement. He ended his remarks with words attributed to Ms. O'Neal's spirit, "If I can help somebody as I walk along the road, then my living shall not be in vain."

Afterward, the mourners passed slowly out into the cool afternoon. the casket was placed in the hearse, and a funeral procession of more than 50 cars headed down Druid Hill Avenue toward the burial site at Arbutus Memorial Park.

When the crowd had dispersed, Pat Davis, a friend of the family, stood recalling her friend, who loved antiques and who used to come to her house to try on antique clothes.

"She was a very beautiful person," Ms. Davis said. "It's so much you could say about her, but to sum it up, she was just a very lovable, likable person."

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