Honoring a hard-working officer and caring mother

Hundreds mourn a city policewoman who was killed in her co-worker's home

December 30, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

The windows of the tiny Joppatowne church fogged over as the mourners pushed in, past the open casket of the slain Baltimore police officer and around the musician playing Caribbean melodies on steel drums.

The mist blocked the dreary scene outside, where a driving rain had failed to deter hundreds of friends and family members from gathering to honor the life of Leslie A. Holliday, a 34-year-old mother of three who was shot to death last week. Her ex-fiance was charged in the killings.

"She was a fine officer and, above all, a great friend," said her partner, Officer James Howard, fighting back tears.

Whether they were friends from her parents' native Trinidad or fresh-faced police colleagues, all recalled Holliday's radiant smile and described her as a quiet and caring woman with a strong work ethic.

The funeral virtually shut down the Rumsey Island area of Harford County yesterday. Officers and family parked along the closed streets leading to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, while the rest of the visitors were bused from Joppatowne High School, where Holliday graduated in 1989.

Holliday was an only child raised in Harford. She was always motivated to succeed, said her mother, Bernice Johnson, recalling that Holliday had perfect attendance in high school and had taken college courses to become a paralegal. But it was in law enforcement that Holliday seemed to have found her niche.

She had been with the Baltimore department for about 18 months and had been working the midnight patrol shift for eight months. In her brief time with the force, she left a mark on fellow officers as a compassionate and courageous person. Howard recalled how Holliday helped him fend off an unruly suspect, while Officer Trainee Valentino Harvey said she looked after other officers like a mother.

Turning to her children, who were seated in the front pew with their father, Holliday's ex-husband, Harvey vowed to watch out for them.

"We'll never be able to replace Leslie as a mother," he said. "[But] you now have 3,200 aunts and uncles who will drop anything to make sure you have everything you need. Do not hesitate to call us.

"This was our sister. We loved her, and we love you."

Outside, with knit caps pulled down tight and a blanket covering their legs, Holliday's two young sons, Robert and Aaron, stared at their mother's casket as bagpipes wailed along with the patter of rain. A woman presented the boys with white teddy bears.

"It's just terrible to think she's not going to be able to watch them grow up," said Holliday's best friend, Krystyna Gallegos, 33, of Abingdon. Gallegos is the godmother of Holliday's eldest child, 12-year-old Monica.

Two viewings were held this week at an Aberdeen funeral home. But to get to the church's main chapel yesterday, visitors had to pass by Holliday's open casket in a narrow hallway. She was dressed in her police uniform, her white-gloved hands clasped. A thin white veil covered her face.

After breaking off her engagement to Eugene Victor Perry Jr., 33, Holliday had begun dating Adam Vazquez, 26, a fellow officer on the midnight shift. Police say Perry - a police officer with the state Department of General Services - sought a position with the city police force and was twice turned down, most recently the week before the shooting.

On Dec. 21, police say, Perry tested his shooting skills at a suburban police firing range before traveling to Vazquez's home, where he used his police-issue weapon to gun down Holliday and Vazquez as they slept. He surrendered to Baltimore County police later that day.

Vazquez, who had served 4 1/2 years on the force, was buried in his native Brooklyn, N.Y., on Wednesday during a service attended by many city officers.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said that he was focused on unifying the department in the wake of the murders.

"Now we've got to pull together and go out there and take care of the job that we were sworn to do," he said.

Yesterday, family and friends - some from Trinidad - struggled to make sense of the crime and offered each other comfort during a reception at the high school.

"She was a very pleasant person who always had a smile," said uncle Bernard Johnson, 53. "I'm gonna miss her."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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