Rashard Raigns was killed in a robbery in Northeast Washington’s Ivy City neighborhood, a block from a homeless shelter where he had stayed the previous two nights. He had settled in outside a seafood packing company, spreading a green blanket on the sidewalk and lighting a blue candle.
D.C. police said there were three attackers after the laptop he carried, and they got it during a middle-of-the-night struggle, with a single shot fired from a small revolver.
It ended the life of a man whom friends described as brilliant and generous but also troubled. Raigns, 33, had been a star student and football player at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School who volunteered at a local community center. He turned down a Harvard scholarship to go to Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. And he spent time studying in China, learning to speak fluent Mandarin.
Sometime during his college career, though, something happened to interrupt that promising path. A former coach said the once outgoing student became withdrawn. He graduated from college but began to have brushes with the law. In a 2008 letter to a judge, Raigns wrote that he was in Alcoholics Anonymous and was seeking help for mental illness, though his sister said he did not suffer from any mental illness and was never diagnosed with one.
“He was definitely battling his own demons, some personal issues, though he seemed to beat them fairly well,” said Colgate head football coach Dan Hunt, who was an assistant when Raigns attended. “He was aware he had some problems, and there were a couple of times here at school it came to a head. It was sad because he was so brilliant. He had so much in front of him.”
In the end, his struggles may have led Raigns to a patch of sidewalk on Fenwick Street, away from the rush of traffic along New York Avenue, where he bedded down for the night of June 4 with a laptop he had just bought from Best Buy, and where he would spend his final night. One man and two teenagers have been charged with murder in the case.
“Anything he was going through didn’t diminish him as a person, because he didn’t deserve this,” said his 28-year-old sister, Rakel Raigns. “It’s sad that three young men my brother would have helped or mentored would take his life over a laptop. They shot him and they left him there, and it hurts.”
Rashard Raigns grew up with his four sisters in the Rosemary Hills section of Silver Spring, an enclave of ethnically diverse immigrants along the District’s border. His father sold insurance; his mother had a degree in computer science. He excelled in academics and athletics at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, making the 1999 “Super 44” all-star football game, pitting the best players in Maryland against the best in Northern Virginia.
In his free time, he volunteered at the neighborhood recreation center.
“A lot of people came in just to give time,” said Ronald Martin, who ran the center in Rosemary Hills and still works for the Montgomery County recreation department. “Rashard was in it for the long haul.”
Alex Taylor, who grew up with Raigns, called his friend “one of the most intelligent people I knew in my whole life.” Taylor, who is 35 and lives in Montgomery County, said Raigns “showed other kids they didn’t have to fit inside some box. They didn’t have to be typecast.”
In 2000, Raigns chose Colgate over Harvard. Both schools offered him full scholarships.
For Hunt, getting the 6-foot-2, 227-pound linebacker was a coup.
“You just knew he was a special kid when he got here,” Hunt said. “He was one of the most diverse kids I could remember, as far as his interests off the field.”
Raigns, No. 92, helped lead the team to two playoff games.One of his teammates, who played fullback, remembered facing off against Raigns in practice.
“He was one of the hardest hitters on the team,” said Jason Smith, who works for an advertising agency. “The first day in practice I go to block Rashard, and, I’m not ashamed to say it, he knocked me out cold.”
Smith remembered Raigns as “a very strong-willed person” who led the team chants and got players energized. Off the field, he used his bare-knuckle enthusiasm to concentrate on academics.
“He was very goal-oriented, very family-oriented, and had a curious mind,” Smith said. “He was always interested in what life was about, which makes his death all the more painful.”
But toward the end of Raigns’s freshman year at Colgate, friends noticed he became quiet and easily frustrated. There was an incident on campus that forced him to take a break from football, one Hunt declined to describe. When he returned, the coach said, it seemed his personality had changed, even if his abilities on the field and in the classroom had not.
Raigns graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2004 with a major in Chinese. Taylor said his friend wanted to work for the State Department and put his language skills to use.
By then, he had amassed a lengthy résumé that is as impressive as it is varied. He counseled at-risk youths in the District. He built a Web site to showcase Chinese poets. He bartended, supervised pool cleaners, performed in an educational play for children, mentored freshman football players and, while studying in China, taught English.
A photo provided by the family shows Raigns at the height of his life. He is dressed in slacks and loafers with a sweater draped across his shoulders. He cradles a football in one hand, a lacrosse stick in the other, and has one foot on a basketball.
After college, Raigns was accepted into a master’s program in Asia Pacific studies at the University of San Francisco, according to a June 3, 2004, letter from the program administrator. But the school has no record of him entering. By the end of June, he was back home in Silver Spring and having problems.
On June 24, D.C. police said, he was with three others in a car in Georgetown that brushed a pedestrian on M Street. The angry pedestrian threw a bottle through an open car window, and police said the occupants chased him into Urban Outfitters. The pedestrian had a knife, and Raigns was stabbed. Though his sister disputes the account, police said Raigns returned to the car, then pointed a hand-gripped shotgun at the store. Raigns pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge and was sentenced to probation and two weekends in jail. Records also show that his probation was ended early after he completed 100 hours of community service, passed drug tests and got a job with the District’s recreation department.
Later, though, Raigns was arrested several times in Prince George’s County on charges of failure to obey police, drinking in public and assault, all of which were dropped. In one 2008 incident, he was accused of throwing a beer can at a firefighter during a first-aid class at a pool. In court papers seeking an extension of his case, Raigns said in a letter to the judge that he was seeking help for mental illness. He said that he had no medical insurance and that creditors were after him for unpaid bills in Montgomery County.
His friend Taylor said family arguments over how to deal with Raigns’s problems escalated until he would leave home for a few days.
“He just told me he wasn’t quite right,” Taylor said. “You could tell he was frustrated by his condition. He knew he was ill, but he still felt he was capable of working in a professional field. The odd jobs he had — being a cook, a lifeguard — were not what he wanted to do with his life.”
But Raigns’s family saw a different picture. They said he wasn’t struggling and had a home with them. He tutored his nieces and nephews in Mandarin, showed up at family events and inspired his youngest sister to study in China and another to pursue a master’s degree. He even kept the family’s candy bowl filled.
Rakel Raigns called any suggestion that her brother suffered from mental illness “a fabrication.” His parents declined to talk about their son for this article. Rakel Raigns said they are too distraught.
Police said they aren’t sure if Rashard Raigns’s attackers had seen him with the computer or if they came upon him by chance.
Surveillance video shows the attackers watching Raigns as he sat on his blanket, then returning later dressed in different clothes. One was armed with a pellet gun, another with a small revolver. Police described a tussle over the laptop and then the shooting. One of the attackers, they said, rode away on a bicycle holding a bag.
About 30 feet from Raigns’s body, police found the blanket and the candle. Wax had spilled onto the power cord, mouse and case, which were left behind.
Raigns’s former teammates at Colgate are raising money for a funeral and have collected $7,000 thus far.
“I saw the brighter side of my brother,” Rakel Raigns said. “He was always the driving force in our lives. You paint a picture of him being homeless, or a person with a disease or mental illness — we didn’t see that at all. We’re not in denial. But we saw our big brother as being our supporter. He was our provider, our protector, and now we don’t have him anymore. We are left in this world to fend for ourselves.”