Two years after joining Baltimore Police to make a difference, Officer Keona Holley is fighting for her life

Keona Holley surprised friends when she decided to leave nursing to become a Baltimore Police officer.

Holley, 39, started at the police academy in 2019 leaving her nursing assistant job at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center. Holley would later say she wanted to bring positive change to the department and for a city that had undergone so much turmoil, from the unrest the rocked the city in 2015, to a sprawling police corruption scandal that sent more than a dozen officers to federal prison.

“I didn’t want to be a Baltimore police officer before. I feel like Baltimore city police officers have a bad name about themselves,” Holley told the news website Insider when she was interviewed in 2020.

But Holley said she could make things better.

“We have to change that, and change it together...,” she said. “The community needs Baltimore city police officers that’s not just here for a paycheck. They’re here because they care.”

Holley was working Thursday morning when someone shot her several times in the 4400 block of Pennington Ave. in Curtis Bay. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the shooter approached from behind and opened fire. State, federal and local authorities have offered a reward of $118,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

Police have not identified any suspects or motive in the shooting, but Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said cameras in the area helped police identify a vehicle that was located Thursday afternoon and was being processed. Harrison said “several” people were being interviewed.

Holley’s friends gathered Thursday outside the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where Dr. Thomas Scalea said the officer was critically ill and on life support.

Qiana Mark went to Edmondson High School with Holley and was among several friends who gathered outside Shock Trauma in support.

“I couldn’t believe it happened to her. She is a good person,” Mark said. “I know we hear this all the time but literally she is a genuine good person without the uniform on or with the uniform on.”

Roshawn Taylor, who lives in White Marsh, worked with Holley at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, and recalled her determination to join the force. She remembers Holley had problems passing the physical but “she kept at it.”

Taylor said Holley never explained why she wanted to become police officer, “but I’m sure it was to help the community. That is the kind of person she is.”

When Holley was accepted to the academy, she so happy, Taylor said. “She said I’m going to be a police officer,” she recalled.

Holley’s sister, Lawanda Sykes, gave an impassioned speech at a Thursday night news conference with city officials. She said being a police officer had been her sister’s lifelong goal, and that she went in early and got home late.

”She left out of that house every day and dug her feet into the dirt to serve this city,” Sykes said. “She deserves better.”

Holley regularly posted about the police work she was proud of to her Facebook page, including a video where she and fellow officers handed out Christmas gifts to a family on the front porch. It appears to be organized by a handful of officers.

“One of my favorite sergeants felt compelled to purchase these three beautiful little girls Christmas, and officers donated,” she wrote in December of last year. The girls had “endured something they probably won’t ever forget.”

She added: “Christmas came early.”

Taylor said she didn’t understand why Holley was shot.

“Of all the cops, why her? Everyone loves Keona,” Taylor said.

Mark said she hopes Holley is able to pull through for her family.

“She is a go-to person. She is the superwoman of her family. She has the cape on her back. For her to be in the condition she is in, it’s not fair...,” Mark said. “Nowadays we’re dealing with a lot of felons walking the streets and they’re not doing much about it.”

Holley’s shooting is the latest act of violence that has shaken the city. Last month, 69-year-old Evelyn Player was stabbed to death inside her East Baltimore church and a 13-year-old girl was slain outside a rec center. That same week the city surpassed 300 homicides for the 7th straight year in a row.

Police have arrested a man in connection with Player’s death but have not announced any arrests in the teen’s killing.

Anyone with information about Thursday’s shooting is asked to call detectives at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7Lockup.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this story.