The 72-year-old woman stabbed to death in her Reservoir Hill apartment used a walker and an oxygen tank but stopped at nothing to extend a helping hand to those in need - family and strangers alike.
But her generosity might have opened her door to the wrong person, relatives said yesterday. Although Baltimore police had not made an arrest as of late in the afternoon, several family members said they fear Shirley Cooper was killed by someone she knew.
Cooper's body was discovered Saturday by her son, who lived four floors below her in the historic Temple Gardens apartment building at 2601 Madison Ave.
"Everyone just loved my mother," said the son, Leo Cooper Jr., 44. "She would trust anyone."
He said he had spoken to his mother at 11:30 p.m. Friday and that she told him she was in bed for the night. His 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, was in her grandmother's apartment caring for her, but went out about midnight.
Ashley said everything appeared normal when she left: Her grandmother was in bed and her male boarder was standing in the living room.
"It's normal to see him standing around doing nothing," Ashley said of the boarder, whose full name is not known. "He paces the floor."
The next day, Leo Cooper went to his mother's fifth-floor apartment about noon and found her walker on the bed and her body on the bedroom floor. She had moved in about two years ago at his request so he and his daughter could help care for her.
"Momma couldn't give up no fight," he said. "The way she went out is very sad."
He said police spoke to the boarder but did not arrest him. A police official did not identify anyone who was questioned.
"We have spoken to someone who remains a person of interest," said Matt Jablow, a Police Department spokesman.
The killing has worried the hundreds of residents who live in the building overlooking Druid Lake.
It was once one of Baltimore's premiere luxury high-rises. Built in the 1920s, it has counted Mayor Sheila Dixon and filmmaker John Waters among its most notable residents.
Dixon's spokesman Anthony McCarthy said the mayor is "very upset" about the homicide and that she had visited the apartment building yesterday evening.
The mayor also planned today to dispatch grief counselors, senior citizen care experts and police officers to discuss security precautions, McCarthy said.
William Clark, a Temple Gardens resident for seven years, said he and his neighbors are fearful that the killer is still at large and might know of security gaps in the building.
"I'm ready to move out of here now," Clark said. "It's frightening."
He blamed the building's woes on frequent management changes but said residents must be vigilant about who they let in.
"You can only be so friendly," he said.
Shirley Cooper, known to friends and family alike as "Momma Shirley," never subscribed to that notion, her family members said.
"She was everybody's mother," said granddaughter Danyelle Davis, 31, of West Baltimore. "She would raise a stranger's baby."
Shirley Cooper grew up in Cherry Hill and married Leo Cooper, a retired BGE employee; the two live separately, her son said. She raised her family - five daughters and a son and her own brothers - at their home on Roland View Avenue in the Park Heights neighborhood.
Cooper loved to cook Sunday dinners as often as she could.
"Every Sunday it was off to grandmother's house we go," Davis said. "She was the leader of the family."
Cooper was rushed to a hospital a few months ago for respiratory problems and began using an oxygen tank, Davis said. Because of her mobility problems, Cooper had not left the apartment since Memorial Day, her son said.
A wake and funeral services are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Berea Temple of Seventh-day Adventists, 1901 Madison Ave.
"For her not to be part of our everyday world - there's going to be too many broken people," Davis said. "We don't know how we're going to survive."