Fallen officer laid to rest, called heroic

Hundreds of mourners pay respects to Sheffield

August 29, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

More than 1,000 police officers and firefighters stood in a cool rain yesterday and offered a final salute to Baltimore Police Officer Crystal D. Sheffield, who was fatally injured last week in a car crash en route to helping a colleague.

"She did not die in vain," Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said during the funeral service at Mount Pleasant Ministries in Northeast Baltimore. "She lost her life answering a call for help. She is truly a hero and role model for all."

The 35-year-old was responding to help another officer in West Baltimore last week when her patrol cruiser collided with an unmarked police car racing to the same call

Sheffield, who died the next day, was the city's first female police officer killed in the line of duty and the sixth officer to die since early 2000.

Yesterday, city officials, ministers and police officers tried to make sense of Sheffield's death. But they also remembered her life, which was dedicated to helping people in West Baltimore while raising a young son.

"She made a difference in one of the hardest jobs in the world," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "Crystal's life and work will go on."

Maj. Antonio Williams, who supervised Sheffield in the Western District, said she was the "epitome of an excellent police officer."

"She gave 100 percent of herself to make life better for everyone," Williams said.

Thousands of police officers and firefighters from all along the East Coast packed the pews of the church and walked by Sheffield's open casket to say goodbye.

Sheffield's family, including her husband, William Andre Sheffield, a lieutenant in the city Fire Department, and her 11-year-old son, Darian, sat nearby, shaking hands and accepting hugs.

The church's choir and band performed, and mourners watched a short video presentation showing photographs of Sheffield's life.

Ministers and public officials received several standing ovations when they spoke about Sheffield's faith and the efforts of police officers to protect the public.

"Heroes are made when you have faith to go into a bad situation," the Rev. Jamal Bryant said.

Sheffield understood the dangers of her job and knew what it meant to give her life in the line of duty, Bryant said.

"Sometimes you have to do some things that aren't good for you," he said.

After the two-hour ceremony, officers carried Sheffield's casket past hundreds of saluting police and firefighters.

Dozens of female city police officers trailed behind the casket, offering a silent tribute to the city's first female officer to die on the job.

More than 1,000 mourners drove to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium in a motorcade that stretched several miles and included hundreds of police cars with flashing lights.

Along the route, people stood on overpasses and near intersections, waving American flags.

At the cemetery, officers crowded around the burial site, trying to ignore the rain. Flags snapped in the wind.

"Amazing Grace" echoed from a bagpipe, and seven officers fired rifles into the air. An officer called for Sheffield over a police radio and then announced she was 10-7, out of service.

"She's not dead," the Rev. Clifford Johnson said earlier at the funeral. "She's alive in a way she's never been alive before."

Sheffield was raised in a family dedicated to public service. Her mother was a nurse; two siblings are Baltimore police officers; a sister teaches in public schools; a brother was in the Army; and another sister is a corrections officer.

After pursuing a career in catering, Sheffield joined the department three years ago at the age of 32, much later than most new recruits. Family members said she wanted to help others and provide a good example for her son.

City officials said yesterday that few families have done so much for a community.

"This is a family that puts its life on the line every day," O'Malley said. "This family is owed a debt we cannot repay. ... No mother has ever given more."

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