There is no easy way to say goodbye to someone whose life was unjustly taken from them. Bowie State University's tribute to Richard Collins III, a soon-to-be graduate who was murdered by an alleged white nationalist on May 21, is profound in its simplicity but nonetheless heartbreaking.
Richard Collins III's graduation gown draped over front row chairs at Bowie State University ceremony. He was murdered Saturday. pic.twitter.com/dq7CsBzpLl— Neal Augenstein (@AugensteinWTOP) May 23, 2017
Collins, 23, was supposed to graduate on May 23: he had completed his ROTC training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army. The university draped his gown over the chair he would have sat on during graduation and awarded his degree in business administration to his family. During the ceremony, school president Mickey Burnim led students in a moment of silence.
"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," Burnim told the audience.
On Saturday night, Collins visited the University of Maryland College Park for another graduation ceremony; shortly after 3 a.m., Collins was attacked with a knife as he waited for an Uber. Collins was rushed to the hospital but died of his wounds. Police have charged 22-year-old Sean Urbanski with the murder.
Witnesses described Urbanski's behavior at the time of the attack as incoherent or possibly intoxicated; he reportedly approached Collins and said, "Step left, step left if you know what's best for you," to which Collins said, "No." Urbanski was quickly apprehended based on surveillance footage; however, the murder was not investigated as a possible hate crime until it was revealed that Urbanski belonged to a Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation. The forum was a cesspool of hatred toward Latinos, Jews, women, and black people, according to Baltimore Police Chief David Mitchell. Urbanski is being held without bail during the investigation, which the FBI is assisting with as the slaying is now being considered a hate crime.
An outpouring of praise for Collins has permeated social media and coverage of his death. The Collins family spokesman, Rev. Darryl L. Godlock, told The Baltimore Sun that the he was a "very caring individual" who "wanted to make his parents proud of him so he went into the military to serve his country." Reiterating Collins's character, Godlock added, "He was highly intelligent and he was at the peak of his career. He loved his family, he loved people that he came in contact with, and more importantly he loved his God."
Vidal Adams, a classmate of Collins's, echoed Godluck's description. "He was the definition of a leader," Adams told The Baltimore Sun. I can't really say the same about a lot of people."