BALTIMORE — He was remembered as a police detective who had a gift for comforting the grieving relatives of the city's murdered.
On Wednesday, honor guards and average citizens, police officers from across Maryland and beyond, gathered to mourn Detective Sean Suiter, who met a violent death on one of the most violent streets he had worked in his 18 years on the force.
Homicide detectives like to say they work for God. His family, friends, colleagues and leaders of the troubled city all said at his funeral that Suiter truly did work that way.
He worked "to bring peace to families whose loved ones were taken away, and here we are now, our loved one was taken away," said Detective Jonathan Jones, flanked by other detectives from Suiter's squad in the sanctuary of Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries.
Suiter's colleagues said he had a soothing demeanor. His supervisors wrote glowing appraisals in his files. The 43-year-old District native and married father of five served in the U.S. Army, then the police. As Gov. Larry Hogan characterized it, he "dedicated his life to working in unsafe places in unsafe times."
The last of those places was on a narrow street in West Baltimore's Harlem Park neighborhood, where Suiter went Nov. 15 to search for new leads in a triple killing from December 2016 on that very block. Authorities said he confronted a suspicious man who, in a brief fight, grabbed Suiter's gun and shot him in the head in a vacant lot.
Suiter fell with his radio still clutched in his left hand, police officials said. The hunt for his killer is still on.
Suiter is the Baltimore Police Department's 137th death in the line of duty since a night watchman was fatally stabbed in 1808, and the 309th homicide victim in the city this year. For Suiter's funeral, more than 3,000 people packed the church's pews and its balcony, and more spilled into an adjacent choir room to watch the service on a video feed. A procession of more than 200 police vehicles and others slowly made its way 11 miles north from the church to the cemetery at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, with highway workers in neon vests and drivers pulled over on interstate shoulders saluting and even wiping a tear as the hearse rolled by.
Suiter was recalled as a hero, for his work ethic and smile by speakers, including fellow officers, family members and Maryland public leaders.
Beyond those personal tributes, Suiter's life and death were invoked in broader calls for respect for policing, for peace where there is violence and for answers in Suiter's killing, among many others.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis heads a department battered by the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal spinal injury in police custody, the riots that followed Gray's death, the current surge in homicides and a corruption scandal making headlines.
In his tribute, Davis said "it's time for the local and national narrative to start reflecting" the reality of the majority of officers like Suiter.
"That's the norm," said Davis.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said, "My heart grieves for our city." Suiter's killing, she said, was a reminder that "when we send folks to our streets to protect our city that they, too, are in danger. . . . When a police officer walks out his door, our hearts and our souls go with him."
Clergy underscored the spiritual in a rousing service that included standing ovations and prayers that challenged the faithful and others to hold out hope for a challenged city. Minister Vernon Hill broached the questions raised in the case with no suspect and much speculation, saying Suiter's family and friends at times "simply did not know what to do. Today we have faith. Today we turn to God."
Hill, one of the first speakers at the funeral, thundered that "those who perpetrated the crime will not get away. . . . They will be prosecuted, will receive a just reward for what was done."
Suiter lived with his family in York, Pa. A graduate of the District's McKinley Technology High School, he entered the military before joining the Baltimore police department in 1999.
He is survived by his wife, Nicole, two daughters, three sons and a granddaughter. Before the service, mourners lined up in the church to salute Suiter at a casket surrounded by red poinsettias.
The detective was shot about 4:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in a vacant lot strewn with trash and tree stumps located between two rowhouses on Bennett Place, in the Harlem Park neighborhood that has been beset by violence over the past several years. Suiter was the lead detective on the 2016 shooting deaths of three men found executed inside a house on the block.
On the day he was shot, Baltimore police officials have said Suiter had confronted a man he deemed suspicious in what they said was a spontaneous incident. Suiter died Nov. 16 at a hospital. An award for the killer has climbed to $215,000.
Questions about the case have swirled amid confirmation that Suiter had been shot on the night before he was going to testify before a federal grand jury in a police corruption case involving eight members of an elite gun squad.
Baltimore's police commissioner has said Suiter's pending testimony and his shooting are unrelated, as questions linger with only a vague description of a suspect still at large.
Police have said they may release additional information about the investigation later this week.
T.J. Smith, the department's chief spokesman, emphasized on a radio show Tuesday that when Suiter confronted the man acting suspiciously he "was acting on instinct," noting that video surveillance shows some of Suiter's movements that back Smith's account of events. "People who think he was set up or lured," Smith said on WBAL-Radio's "C-4 Show," "that's just not consistent with the evidence we have."
At the service, various relatives, including some of Suiter's children, read poems as tributes. One was a "message" from Suiter to his wife of 13 years that said "be free and know with every breath you take you'll be taking one for me."
As the service ended and mourners left the church and headed back into sunshine in Baltimore, Bishop Clifford Johnson Jr. said Baltimore residents live in a city where "a lot of evil is going on," but good can emerge.
He ended by addressing civic leaders.
"Mayor, governor, commissioner," he said. "There is hope."