Honor the fallen by finding the truth

May 05, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

So after the list of Maryland's fallen heroes was read yesterday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, the Hereford High School Chamber Choir did indeed sing "You'll Never Walk Alone."

And the young ladies and gentlemen did so splendidly. The girls looked fetching in their black gowns, the boys absolutely elegant in their black tuxedos. The choir's rendition of the song was superb.

I just wondered if anyone else caught the irony of "You'll Never Walk Alone" being sung at a fallen heroes ceremony in which David McGuinn was one of the honorees.

You've heard McGuinn's story before, but it merits telling again. McGuinn was a correctional officer at the Maryland House of Correction last July when at least two inmates fatally stabbed him. Before his death, inmates and even some correctional officers had derisively called the 42-year-old McGuinn "Homeland Security" for taking his job at the now-closed MHC seriously.

Or, as the Rev. Joe Ehrmann put it at yesterday's 22nd annual Fallen Heroes Day ceremony, McGuinn "refused to compromise the rules of conduct for inmates." That refusal to compromise put McGuinn on an inmate hit list, according to the leaders of some unions that represent correctional officers.

Somebody on the MHC staff must have taken the hit list seriously enough to reassign McGuinn to an area not in the housing units. But last July 25, McGuinn was back in the housing units, doing a nightly check of the cells just before he was stabbed.

And he was very much "walking alone."

Today, nearly 10 months later, the public knows no more about why McGuinn was alone than we did on July 26, 2006, the day after he was fatally stabbed. We don't know who reassigned him to the housing units or why. We don't know why McGuinn - the correctional officer on the inmate hit list - was doing cell checks alone.

Elected officials at the state level and honchos at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have praised McGuinn. Yesterday, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. gave his family condolences. State and local officials have given McGuinn and his surviving family members everything but what they're owed: simple answers to the simplest of questions.

McGuinn's death was avoidable, and the circumstances have not been fully explained. We know more about the deaths of the others honored yesterday. For example, the death of Racheal M. Wilson, a Baltimore fire cadet, prompted investigations and a departmental shake-up, and criminal charges have not been ruled out.

We know that Officer Anthony A. Byrd of the Baltimore Police Department was killed in a car crash. Baltimore Police Department Detective Troy L. Chesley Sr. was fatally shot in an attempted robbery.

We know Cpl. Robert T. Krause of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police died as a result of injuries he received in a traffic accident, as did Edward Wilburn of the Deep Creek Fire Department. The Baltimore Fire Department's Allan M. Roberts died fighting a blaze in a rowhouse. Deputy 1st Class William H. Beebe Jr. of the Harford County Sheriff's Department suffered a fatal heart attack while driving to prevent someone from committing suicide.

We know that Wilson died in an early February training exercise. Mayor Sheila Dixon saw that we got some answers to questions surrounding her death. And she fired the head of the training academy and suspended three other training officials. Not everyone likes how Dixon responded, but at least she got some answers.

When a correctional officer who's on an inmate hit list ends up dead after doing cell checks, that qualifies as a major problem. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wasn't able to get answers about that problem. Neither has current Gov. Martin O'Malley, although he did close MHC.

Mark A. Vernarelli, the director of public information for the DPSCS, said in an e-mail that "despite a tireless investigation by DPSCS and the Division of Correction, investigators simply do not have anything to substantiate rumors pertaining to Officer McGuinn's safety, job assignment, etc. If anyone out there has information, investigators need to hear from them."

For now, Marylanders will have to settle for hearing from McGuinn's mother, who attended yesterday's ceremony with his brother and sister. They know what the average Marylander knows about David McGuinn's death, which is to say: not a blessed thing.

"We've been told not to talk about it," McGuinn's mother said. But she was willing to talk about the McGuinn family history to help Marylanders understand how her son came to be the dedicated, incorruptible fallen hero he is. The McGuinns are descendants of Josiah Henson, a Maryland slave who escaped to Canada, started a school for escaped slaves and became a leader of a tiny black community in Dresden, Ontario.

"[David's] grandfather was a policeman," McGuinn's mother said. "I was a crossing guard. I'm telling you this because I want you to know that these are the kind of people David came from. That's what made David who he is."

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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