Hundreds honor Bowie State student Richard Collins III

Bowie State University’s auditorium filled quickly on Monday for an evening memorial service to honor Richard Collins III, a senior and freshly commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant who was due to graduate on May 24.

Collins, a popular student at the 5,500-student historically black university in Prince George’s County, Md., was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland campus on May 20. Videos above the podium showed Collins in uniform addressing his officers and fellow cadets at his commissioning ceremony.

The FBI is investigating the murder as a possible hate crime. Police report the suspect, Sean Urbanski, 23, a University of Maryland student, is a member of the white supremacist Facebook group, Alt-Reich Nation. Court documents obtained by NBC News Channel 4 in Washington, D.C. say Urbanski was intoxicated when he approached Collins and two friends as they waited for an Uber taxi to arrive about 3:00 a.m.

“I loved him. He was an outstanding individual, cadet and competitor who was part of our color guard and completed airborne school,” Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, a professor of military science told attendees at the memorial service. “Character is the one leadership requirement we value first and foremost and Richard Collins was trustworthy, honest and dependable.”

“Richard would go out of his way to make you happy if you had a bad day,” said Ali Jennifer, a fellow Bowie student who dated Collins, a runner who played soccer and lacrosse. “Look at all the people here. That’s how you know he was a great person.”

Court documents obtained by Channel 4 say Urbanski, the suspected killer, approached Collins and told him, “Step left. Step left if you know what’s best for you.” When Collins said, “No,” Urbanski pulled out a knife with a 3-4 inch blade and stabbed him in the chest.

Richard Collins III in the middle. (Courtesy Photo)

Attendees rose to their feet and cheered after Shirelle Briscoe, the university’s assistant president for undergraduate students, said, “In his best days, in his last hours, Richard stood firm for what he believed in.”

Fellow student Chantel Parlow had only known Collins, a Calvert County resident, briefly before they traveled from Bowie into Baltimore City in 2015 on the evening of the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. “I was nervous about going into the city,” said Parlow. She said Richard told her, “I promise you we will get there and we will get back.” Relating her childhood as an Army brat, Parlow said, “ I knew this fearlessness. I knew he was unwavering in his beliefs and wasn’t afraid to have unpopular opinions.”

“You have to wonder what is wrong with our world, why is violence so prevalent,” said Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim. “This hurts all of us. It diminishes all of us. But we can’t let that be the final word,” said Burnim, calling on those gathered to honor Collins’s memory by “staying optimistic, celebrating our differences and diversity and stressing our love for each other.”

Many members of the faculty attended the service. Bowie’s faculty senate released a statement saying, “We join with you in building community and rejecting hatred, racism and all forms of injustice.”

A vigil was held Monday for Bowie State student Richard Collins III.

At a candlelight vigil following the memorial, students gathered beneath Bowie State’s glowing 25-foot torch holding orange, blue and green balloons, releasing them to the sky after singing the school’s song.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (Dem. 4th District) stood just outside the stone circle surrounding the torch. On poles just behind him were banners, one green saying “Pride,” one purple saying “Legacy.”

“This is tragic. Here’s a young man I never met, but I feel like I know. He did everything he was supposed to do. He got his degree in business administration and died steps away from graduation. The growing extremism in our country and Maryland is mind-boggling, mindless, senseless,” said Brown, the state’s former lieutenant governor. Brown said he would be calling upon the university system to “step up its efforts” to protect freedom of expression but also to protect students from racism and acts of hatred.

As the vigil ended, students, alumni and faculty slowly making their way to the parking lots, a small group gathered beneath the torch. One held a red, black and green flag. Another displayed a sign saying, “Expose ‘Alt Right’ Neo Nazis on UMD Campus. RIP 2nd Lt. R. Collins III.” A third member of the group, identifying herself as a lawyer, held a bullhorn, exhorting those remaining to act on their anger over the murder of a classmate. “God gave you the ability to open your mouths, and do something about this,” she said. “What are you going to do?” She called for a protest march to be held in June.

Urbanski, a Severna Park High School graduate, is being held in jail without bond. His lawyer requested his release on bail, subject to house arrest, monitoring by a GPS device and the requirement to enter substance abuse treatment. District Court Judge Patrice Lewis rejected the request, calling Urbanski a “clear danger” to the community.

In a statement, Md. Gov. Larry Hogan said, “The individual responsible for this young man’s death must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Violence and hatred have no place in our community and will never be tolerated.”

As grieving students prepare for graduation and the Collins family makes funeral arrangements, “Alt-Reich,” the Facebook group police say Urbanski joined—one that praises Adolf Hitler—chimed in on the suspected terrorist bombing of a concert in Manchester, England that killed 19: “Welcome to Diversity and Multi-Culturalism,” says the group’s post. “It is the innocents who pay the price.”