BALTIMORE — Thousands of mourners gathered Wednesday in Baltimore for the funeral of police Detective Sean Suiter, a York, Pa., resident who was killed in the line of duty Nov. 15 while investigating a 2016 triple killing.
Police departments throughout the country sent delegations to honor Suiter, an 18-year veteran who was shot in the head while canvassing a neighborhood, in a service that acknowledged the violent environment in which Suiter worked.
He "dedicated his life to working in unsafe places in unsafe times," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told the crowd at Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries in Baltimore, which was filled to capacity with more than 3,000 people.
Authorities are still searching for the detective's killer.
Suiter, who was 43 and the married father of five, 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.
Throughout the service, Suiter was remembered as a hero, for his work ethic, and for his smile by a series of speakers, including fellow officers, family members, and Maryland leaders.
As a homicide detective, Suiter worked "to bring peace to families whose loved ones were taken away and here we are now, our loved one taken away," said Detective Jonathan Jones, who was flanked by the other detectives from Suiter's squad.
Beyond the tributes, speakers touched on unanswered questions surrounding Suiter's shooting and concerns about public mistrust of police after officer-involved shootings.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, "It's time for the local and national narrative to start reflecting" the reality of officers like Suiter who "gave each and every day."
"That's the norm," Davis said.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said, "My heart grieves for our city."
Suiter's death, she said, was a reminder that "when we send folks to our streets to protect our city that they, too, are in danger" and she pledged to increase the number of police officers on the city force.
Just before 7 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds of officers from across the state began to fill one of the church's parking lots. The Maryland Natural Resources Police sent a 40-member color guard.
The Anne Arundel Alarmers Association, a group of volunteers that helps serve food and drinks at large fires, dispensed hot coffee from a truck while bagpipers warmed up with "Amazing Grace."
In a back corner of the lot, Lt. Justin P. Asher lined up six corrections officers at attention to inspect their dress uniforms. "This was a Maryland officer, and we want to show Baltimore that we are all together," said Asher, who works in Anne Arundel for the county Department of Detention Facilities. "We are just seven more people who can show the family that we are there for them."
Suiter was raised in the District of Columbia and lived with his family in York. A graduate of McKinley Tech High School, Suiter served in the U.S. Army before joining the Baltimore police 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.
A burial was to follow at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, where many slain police officers and firefighters lie.
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 a West Baltimore neighborhood called Harlem Park that has been beset by violence over the last several years. He was clutching his radio in his left hand when he was shot, police officials said. Suiter was the lead detective on the shooting deaths of three men found executed inside a house on the same block in December, and had returned to follow up on new clues the day he was shot.
Baltimore police officials have said Suiter had confronted a man he deemed suspicious and during a brief but violent scuffle had his gun taken from him and was shot once in the head. Police have said Suiter's gun was fired three times, and the assailant may have been injured in the deadly encounter.
He died Nov. 16 at a hospital.
Police have not arrested a suspect despite an award that has climbed to $215,000 and a manhunt that has lasted for days and, for a time, locked down much of Harlem Park.
One of the first speakers at the funeral was Vernon Hill, a minister who said "those who perpetrated the crime will not get away. … They will be prosecuted, will receive a just reward for what was done."
Questions about the case have swirled amid confirmation that Suiter had been shot on the night before he was going to give testimony before a federal grand jury in a police corruption case that has ensnared eight members of an elite gun squad.
Baltimore's police commissioner has said Suiter's pending testimony and his shooting are unrelated, as many unanswered questions linger without a suspect in custody and only a vague description of the shooter.
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 Suiter confronted the man acting suspiciously in a spontaneous act. He "was acting on instinct," Smith said, noting that video surveillance shows some of Suiter's movements that back Smith's version 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."
Closing out the service on Wednesday was Bishop Clifford Johnson, who said Baltimore residents live in a city where "a lot of evil is going on."
He ended by addressing civic leaders.