Authorities are investigating whether the stabbing death of a black college student who was visiting the University of Maryland during graduation weekend was a hate crime.
The chief of the university police said Sunday the suspect, a white University of Maryland student, is a member of a racist Facebook group. An FBI official said the federal agency will assist with the investigation.
The victim, identified by police Sunday as Richard Collins III, was due to graduate from Bowie State University this week. The Calvert County man had completed ROTC in college and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army on Thursday, according to school officials and a family spokesman. He was 23.
Police have charged Sean Christoper Urbanski, 22, of Severna Park with first-degree murder in the attack. He was being held without bail. His family did not respond Sunday to a request for comment, and online court records did not list an attorney.
Artie Lee Travis, Bowie State’s vice president for student affairs, said the campus is in mourning.
“We are looking forward to the quickest investigation as possible,” he said. “Hate has no place in America. Hate has no place on a college campus where young minds are coming together to try to change the world.”
The Rev. Darryl L. Godlock, serving as a spokesman for the Collins family, said the young man had obtained his airborne certification. Collins wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a military veteran, Godlock said.
“He wanted to make his parents proud of him so he went into the military to serve his country,” Godlock said. “It was a great opportunity for him to advance forward and make the most out of his career.”
Godlock said Collins was close to his family.
“This was not a thug,” Godlock said. “This was a very caring individual. 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.”
Collins was a vibrant, funny and outgoing student whose ambition rubbed off on his friends, said Vidal Adams, a fellow Bowie State student and friend. Collins talked about wanting to travel the world and go skydiving and surfing, he said.
“He wanted to be a general of the United States Army, that was his ultimate goal,” said Adams, a senior criminal justice major. “He was the definition of a leader. I can’t really say the same about a lot of people.”
Collins was waiting with two other students for an Uber ride outside the Montgomery Hall dormitory on Regents Drive near U.S. 1 at about 3 a.m. Saturday when he was attacked.
The stabbing was captured by a surveillance camera, police said. They called it unprovoked.
Witnesses said the suspect was intoxicated and incoherent at the time of the attack, police said. Police have said the victim and suspect did not know each other.
Officers called to the scene found Collins wounded on the sidewalk, police said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Urbanski was arrested at the scene, police said. Officers recovered a folding knife, police said.
Collins’ friends told police they heard the suspect scream as he approached them.
The suspect said “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” police wrote in charging documents. Collins said “no,” police wrote. The suspect continued to approach, and stabbed him once in the chest.
Police said initially there was no indication that race played a role. But University Police Chief David Mitchell said information about the Facebook group was brought to their attention on Sunday.
The group, called “Alt-Reich Nation,” contained racist posts, he said.
“When I look at the information that’s contained on that website, suffice it to say that it’s despicable, it shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, persons of Jewish faith and especially African-Americans,” Mitchell said.
The FBI digital forensics team will look for information online that sheds light on the case, Mitchell said.
The suspect has not told police any motive, he said.
Gordon Johnson, an agent in the FBI’s Baltimore field office, said his office assists in hate crime investigations. He called Collins a “national treasure,” and said people should remember the victim and his family.
“This is a terribly, terribly dark time for them, and we can’t forget about that,” Johnson said.
The killing comes after a series of racist incidents at the college in recent months. A noose was found in a fraternity house earlier this month, and posters promoting nationalism were found on campus earlier this year.
The attack came as students, parents and faculty prepared to celebrate commencement exercises on Sunday. It was the first homicide on campus in decades.
University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh opened the graduation ceremony at the Xfinity Center Sunday with a moment of silence.
“On behalf of our entire community, I want to express our profound sorrow and anguish, for this horrific tragedy,” he said. He called the killing “a senseless and unprovoked assault,” and asked the audience to stand “to express our profound sorrow and anguish, for this horrific tragedy.”
“We are still in shock that a young man, so full of promise, should have his life cut short, so suddenly,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and with the entire Bowie State University community.”
Later Sunday Loh said the university and Prince George’s County officials have stepped up their patrols on and off campus. “The safety of our campus community remains a top priority,” he said. However, he added, “We must all do more to nurture a climate — on campus and beyond —where we stand against hate, we fight against hate crimes, and we reaffirm the values that define us a university and as a democracy.”
Collins was to graduate from Bowie State on Tuesday with a degree in business administration. He was to serve in Army intelligence.
Bowie State officials planned another moment of silence for him there.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Tim Prudente, Colin Campbell and Rachael Pacella and The Associated Press contributed to this article.