COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A black Bowie State University student who police say was fatally stabbed by a white stranger was honored Tuesday at the commencement ceremony where he would have walked across the stage.
The gown of Richard Collins III was draped over a chair in the front row, and his family accepted his business administration degree.
The historically black school’s commencement was held in a sports arena at the nearby College Park campus of the University of Maryland, where Collins was killed early Saturday.
Moments after the stabbing, witnesses directed officers to a white Maryland student sitting nearby with a knife in his pocket, police said.
Bowie State President Mickey Burnim asked graduates to remember Collins.
“Let us pause now in a moment of silence and contemplation of what each of us might do to promote greater peace, harmony and love that seems to be so lacking in our country and our world today,” he said.
Indeo Ragsdale, a friend of Collins from Bowie State’s ROTC program, said the day was full of sadness from losing him, but also the happiness of having known him, and the many lives he touched.
“He’ll be truly missed,” said Ragsdale, a junior from Lindenwold, New Jersey.
Bowie State students were trying to avoid negative thoughts, even though Collins was stabbed a short distance from the commencement, he said.
“It’s sad that it happened up the street from here, but it’s out of our control. We’re not focused on the negativity today. We’re focused on the positivity. Collins was a joyful person,” he said.
Robert Caret, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, noted these contrasting emotions while addressing the graduating class.
“Commencements, almost without exception, are events that are bound with excitement and good feeling and hope, but it’s clear that we gather today heartbroken by the murder of one of our very own, someone who by any rational measure should be with us today,” Caret said.
Outside, University of Maryland physics professor Charles Clark wore his academic regalia and carried a sign honoring Collins as he welcomed the other school’s graduates and faculty.
“I thought I’d come and greet people on my own behalf and give them a good impression of the University of Maryland at College Park,” he said.
Bowie State science professor Uvetta Dozier thanked Clark. She called Collins’ death heartbreaking.
“He could have been someone whose life could have been a lamp unto those who are lost,” Dozier said.
Authorities have appealed for patience from both college communities as they investigate the background of Sean Urbanski, now jailed on murder charges. Police are considering it a possible hate crime, because Urbanski became a member of a racist Facebook group several months ago.
“I know people are hurting,” Police Chief Hank Stawinski said Monday. “I know that people are drawing conclusions. I know that social media moves in its own way.
“But I’m asking as the chief of police in Prince George’s County … that we take pause and allow all these investigators to do their work. They will know to a certainty what lies behind this, but we’re not there yet.”
Defense attorney William C. Brennan argued that since the 22-year-old Urbanski had no criminal record, he should be allowed to live at home with a GPS monitor and receive alcohol abuse treatment while his case goes forward. The judge declined, for now.
Collins, 23, who was visiting friends at the College Park campus, had just been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, who runs the Bowie State ROTC unit, said at a vigil Monday night that Collins could have been an outstanding military leader.
“Richard cared deeply about his friends, cared deeply about others and he was exactly what we are looking for when we’re selecting officers for the United States Army,” Thomas said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan posted Monday on Facebook that the person responsible must be fully prosecuted. “Violence and hatred have no place in our communities and will never be tolerated,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this story.
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