BALTIMORE (AP) - Hundreds of mourners, including a sea of
officers and firefighters in dress blues, gathered to "celebrate
the life" of a Baltimore police officer who died in a car crash
while answering a call for help.
About 1,000 officers and firefighters from all over Maryland
flowed into Mount Pleasant Ministries in northeast Baltimore on
Wednesday to say goodbye to Crystal Sheffield, 35. Lines of dark
uniforms and crisp caps circled the pews, filling seats as officers
watched more of their own ranks file in.
The choir sang as each officer walked to her open casket, stood
quietly and snapped a white-gloved salute.
As they turned away, they clasped the hands of her husband,
Baltimore fire Lt. William Andre Sheffield. Many gathered the burly
man in a long embrace as their only child, 11-year-old Darian,
looked on.
"This family is owed a debt we can't hope to repay," said
Mayor Martin O'Malley, thanking Sheffield's mother, Cornelia Allen,
for raising children with a dedication to public service.
Sheffield's sister, brother and brother-in-law also are police
Sheffield was in her patrol car, with sirens and flashing lights
on, when she slammed into an unmarked police cruiser the night of
Aug. 21. Both cars were responding to a call for backup. Two
officers in the unmarked car were treated and released from
University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
She was the city's first female officer to die in the line of
duty and the sixth officer to die in a police vehicle crash in
three years.
"She worked in one of the toughest sections of the city, and
she lost her life answering a call for help. She is truly a hero
and role model for all," said Police Commissioner Edward Norris,
who also spoke along with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
After a service of almost three hours, mourners were led by
police motorcade through closed streets to Dulaney Valley Memorial
Gardens in northwest Baltimore.
Music from a live band and a full choir filled the sanctuary,
moving mourners and some officers to stand and sway, clapping to
the beat. A female minister in white and purple robes danced
through the aisles, lifting her hands toward the altar and the
crowd as they sang and cheered.
"We are here to celebrate the life of a child of God. Sister
Sheffield was a child of God first," said the Rev. Clifford
Johnson, pastor of Mount Pleasant Ministries, drawing more
exclamations and a standing ovation.
In a letter to Sheffield, included in her funeral program, her
husband praised her spirit and said he knows he and Darian now have
"a heavenly cop watching our backs."
He thanked her for their 15 years together. "I can only hope to
copy your spirit and drive and be half the person that you were."
Sheffield joined the police department three years ago and began
working the midnight shift in western district in April 2000. A
tribute in her funeral program said Sheffield had a "zest for
life," and that she loved her job.
"She was known for her ability to defuse a tense situation,"
O'Malley said. "Every day she put on that uniform, and every days
she made a difference. Every day she chose to fight crime and do
one of the hardest jobs in the world."
Each speaker, most in uniform, spoke from the flower-laden altar
directly to Sheffield's husband and son.
"We will stay with you and support you even after all this
fanfare is over," said police Maj. Antonio Williams.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press