(AP Photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

As the city continues to mourn the loss of Evelyn Player, hundreds gathered to honor the life of the beloved community member on the grounds of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore for a vigil and community walk on Nov. 18.

The 69-year-old woman’s death has disheartened the city beyond measure. She was found dead the morning of Nov. 16 as a result of a reported stabbing.

According to Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Player went into the church around 6 a.m. to perform her normal tasks and allowed contractors into the building, which is under renovation. At about 6:50 a.m., a maintenance worker found her body inside one of the church’s bathrooms with apparent trauma to the body, according to reports.

The incident has fostered national attention and has been characterized as an unspeakable act of cowardice, being that it occurred in a religious establishment.

“A dedicated member and staff member of Southern Baptist, one of our anchor faith institutions in Baltimore, had her life taken in the church by a coward and scum. This is not OK and none of us should be OK,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a press conference, also calling on the community’s assistance.

“Her family is four generations strong at Southern, and all of our hearts should be with them. Solving this unfathomable, unthinkable, cowardly act is now priority number one for the Baltimore Police Department and I have the utmost faith our homicide detectives will close this case.”

Community members, along with Player’s friends, relatives, loved ones and church family packed the 1700 block of North Chester Street and the surrounding vicinity during the two-hour tribute.

Political figures, including Mayor Scott, were there to show support and join the public outcry against the senseless violence that claimed the life of Player. Additionally, the vigil drew a number of faith leaders, including Bishop Kevia Elliott of The Lord’s Church, Minister Carlos Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and Pastor Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist.

“We were very distraught, shocked and we especially didn’t believe it would happen in the house of God. But we just thank and praise God that even through this, God’s will and greater purpose will be accomplished,” Hickman told the AFRO.

“That love and that support, we never even knew that so much was there, and we believe that people didn’t just come for us, they came for the cause. Evelyn Player represents anybody’s mother who could’ve been in that situation, so we just thank God that people are touched inwardly and that people still have hearts for the community.”

Directly in front of the church, someone held up a sign that read “ Respect Cancels Regret!” During the community walk led by local organization We Our Us, the crowd chanted various call-and-response phrases: “We all we got, we all we need.”; “I am my brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper.”; “We won’t stop, we won’t quit.”; and “Protect our sons, and our daughters too. Create a Baltimore for me and you.”

Marchers walked from East Lafayette Avenue, to Collington Avenue, to Cliftwood Avenue and finished up on Chester Street. Throughout the emotional vigil, scriptures were read, songs were sung and encouraging remarks were spoken.

Player was a devoted longtime member of Southern Baptist, having attended the church for more than 50 years. She contributed largely toward the upkeep of Southern Baptist, also serving as the church sexton. The mother and grandmother volunteered in various areas of the ministry and sang in the choir, Hickman said.

“Her legacy will live through our mantra of restoring people as we rebuild properties,” Hickman said.

“The church has always been about building affordable housing in our community, elderly housing, health and wellness centers, a grocer for this food desert and job opportunities. That’s what Evelyn was about. She was about impacting people.”

Southern Baptist also hopes to establish an educational scholarship in Player’s name, along with a memorial garden that “reflects her presence” Hickman said.

BPD has commenced a thorough investigation, and a person of interest has been identified, confirmed Harrison.

Gov. Larry Hogan directed the Maryland State Police and all state law enforcement agencies to assist BPD with its investigation.

“The State of Maryland is also offering an additional $100,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the murder of Evelyn Player,” he said in a statement. 

“We are calling on the city to use any resources at its disposal to match this reward. As we work to bring swift justice, Evelyn’s family and loved ones are in our prayers.”

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