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Slain Student Honored at Bowie State Graduation

Bowie State University student Richard Collins III had dreams of following his father’s footsteps into a career in the military. He also was set to graduate Tuesday, May 23 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Unfortunately, neither happened.

Collins was fatally stabbed early Saturday morning while waiting for a ride-sharing service with two friends at a bus stop at the University of Maryland in College Park, just three days before the 23-year-old would have graduated from Bowie. At the commencement ceremony Tuesday, a black cap with a bottled water was laid on a chair to honor Collins.

Collins’ family walked on stage to receive his degree posthumously along with the other 649 students who received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

At the beginning of ceremony, Bowie State President Mickey L. Burnim led a moment of silence for Collins.

“Being a father and a grandfather myself, I feel the need to sorrow for what his parents and those who knew and loved him must be going through,” he said. “I pray in God’s comfort for his family and for all of us who are in mourning.”

The historically black university’s commencement was held at the Xfinity Center on the University of Maryland in College Park campus, where Collins was killed.

Police said Collins was stabbed about 3:30 a.m. Saturday while waiting on an Uber.

Collins’ accused killer, Sean Christopher Urbanski, made his first court appearance Monday before a Prince George’s County judge on murder and assault charges.

Judge Patricia E. Lewis ordered Urbanski, a 22-year-old white student at the University of Maryland, to remain in jail without bond.

Authorities said Collins and his two friends heard Urbanski scream from across the street before he approached them.

“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski said to Collins, who replied, “No,” according to court documents.

Urbanski stabbed Collins in the chest and was found by police sitting on a bench about 50 feet away from the bus stop, authorities said. Police recovered a knife from Urbanski’s right pocket.

During a press conference Sunday at the University of Maryland police station, officials said Urbanski may belong to a racist Facebook group. The FBI office in Baltimore will assist in the investigation with the state’s attorney’s office and county police.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said it’s too early to determine whether Collins’ death constitutes as a hate crime. By early indications, Urbanski and Collins didn’t know each other, she said.

“This is an investigation we cannot afford to get wrong,” she said during a news conference Monday outside the courthouse in Upper Marlboro. “We will take our time and make sure it is done well.”

Although the judge denied Urbanski’s release from jail, she said his attorney could ask for a GPS monitoring device because he has no prior criminal record.

“We will agree to anything other than [removing] a no-bond [status],” Alsobrooks said. “This is a person who stabbed a perfect stranger at a bus stop. [This] is a very serious allegation. We believe that sort of individual is too dangerous to be out.”

Campus vigil

Hours after the legal proceedings Monday, hundreds came to the Bowie State campus in Bowie to hold a vigil, where Collins was remembered as honest, trustworthy, fearless and dependable.

Participants in a candlelight vigil at Bowie State University gather to protest the killing of Bowie senior Richard Collins III. (Demetrious Kinney/The Washington Informer)
Participants in a candlelight vigil at Bowie State University gather to protest the killing of Bowie senior Richard Collins III. (Demetrious Kinney/The Washington Informer)

Some students, faculty and alumni shed tears. Some laughed. Some expressed frustration about his tragic death.

Lt. Col. Joel Thomas advised the audience to continue living.

“I suggest we pick up the mantle and continue to work and move,” said Thomas, who taught Collins military science at Bowie State. “Celebrate his life by being great in anything you do. By being great will let [people] know how great a person Richard was and how great an institution Bowie State is.”

Classmates such as Talithia Royster talked about how she and Collins were commissioned Thursday as second lieutenants in the Army and were set to graduate Tuesday. Then Royster sang “His Eyes Is on the Sparrow.”

Phylecia Fabulas, a member of the school’s Student Government Association, recalled when she first met Collins two years ago during the uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.

She traveled with Collins and a few others to Baltimore to experience and understand the protests that took place in the city.

Even during that tumultuous event, Collins expressed his humor.

“He said, ‘Hey, my name is Richard but you can call me “Rich” because that’s what I’m going to be,'” she said amid laughter in the audience. “We went there and got back. At that moment, I knew there was something very special about him. He was fearless.”

After remarks inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Communication Arts Center, hundreds walked to the torch, a campus landmark, where balloons were released to pay homage to Collins’ memory.

Afterward, some stood at the torch to protest his death and spoke against a system they say unjustly targets Blacks.

“I have mixed emotions. Part of me wants to be a part of that, but part of me wants to unify everyone,” said Ogechi Ukachukwu, 24, who will transfer from Prince George’s Community College to Bowie State in the fall. “[Collins] death was definitely a hate crime, but you can’t fight hate with hate. I really hope and pray we do come together.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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