Evelyn Player, a 69-year-old retiree who was found murdered inside the Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore on Tuesday, might have arrived at the church early to pray, her pastor said. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has offered a $100,000 reward to help solve her murder.
"Typically, Evelyn would not come as early. We have other male sextons that come to the church, she just beat everybody here. She had been praying all week, praying and crying, and she may have come to the church early to have some time to pray by herself," Southern Baptist Church’s pastor, Bishop Donte Hickman, told 11 News.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison said at a press conference Tuesday that Player, who was both a member and worker at Southern Baptist Church where her family worshiped for four generations, entered the church at around 6 a.m. Tuesday. She unlocked the doors, as usual, to allow contractors renovating the church to enter. At around 6:50 a.m. she was discovered dead in the church’s bathroom in her work area.
Hickman also told the news outlet that Player’s murder in the church had unsettled his spirit.
"It's been unsettling in my spirit and a violation to our home — our home in this community," he said.
"She helped to feed this community, she helped to vaccinate this community, test them when they were sick, to provide flu shots, helping with Hopkins and others who came to the church. She was a willing worker," Hickman said. Though Player was a paid church worker, she also volunteered.
In a statement on Twitter, Hogan decried the “heartbreaking violence” that led to the Player’s killing in the city.
“The murder of a 69-year-old grandmother inside an East Baltimore church has shaken city residents and community leaders to the core. It follows a string of senseless violence that includes a barber shop killing, and the assault of a priest in broad daylight in Little Italy,” Hogan said.
“People are hurting, they’re scared, and they’re searching for answers. They want to know why this bloodshed keeps happening, and what it’s going to take for something to change. This heartbreaking violence is tearing the city apart. Enough is enough. We need immediate action,” he said.
A day earlier, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called Player’s killing an “unspeakable, cowardly murder,” and urged residents to come forward with what they know.
“This is not OK. None of us should be OK. Her family is four generations strong at Southern. ... Solving this unfathomable, unthinkable cowardly act is now priority No. 1 for the Baltimore Police Department,” Scott said.
In his statement Wednesday, Hogan said he directed Maryland State Police and “all state law enforcement agencies to immediately assist” the Baltimore Police Department with their investigation of Player’s murder as well as providing “enhanced visibility patrols in an all-hands-on-deck effort.”
“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. 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,” he said.
Police told 11 News that investigators have identified a person of interest in the case and the individual is known in the area.
As he reflected on the last time he spoke with Player, Hickman highlighted her sense of humor.
"I was telling Evelyn some time ago we were thinking about starting church Thanksgiving, she said, 'Pastor, maybe the New Year is a better bet,'” he told 11 News. “She was always candid with me, always comical. When I saw her, I had no idea that that would be the last time right across from the room where she was taken.”