Friends could count on Omar Sykes. For a smile, a hug, an attentive ear, he was always open to helping others.
Sykes, a 22-year-old rising senior and business marketing major at Howard University, was shot and killed Thursday night just outside the college’s Northwest Washington campus in what police said was a random robbery attempt. A second student was struck with a handgun and is recovering.
Friends and family were shocked by the death of the community service-oriented young man, who was a leader of Howard’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity. He was also a member of the Noble Black Society, an organization founded at Howard that defines itself on its Web site as a “family oriented entertainment collective focused on the purpose of Redefining Black.”
“Just to think something like this could happen is just unheard of,” said Lance Coleman, a 22-year-old Howard student and a close friend of Sykes’s. “He was probably the most well-liked guy in my life. He was always about helping people. . . . The world just lost someone pretty amazing.”
Sykes’s family members asked for privacy but said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened and devastated by the unexpected loss of our son and brother, Omar Adam Sykes.”
“With grateful hearts, we send our sincerest appreciation for the tremendous outpouring of love and prayers that we have received,” the family wrote.
Sykes and the other student were assaulted about 11:30 p.m. at Georgia Avenue and Fairmont Street NW, Howard officials said. Police said two attackers with handguns approached the students and announced a robbery.
Police said they were still investigating whether anything was taken, and they were working to collect surveillance videos from the area.
Cherice McGlone, a 20-year-old Howard student, said she met Sykes during their freshman year through a campus organization called Blue Crew, where students support the school’s sports teams.
“He always had a hug and a smile, every single time he saw me,” McGlone said.
Sykes, a graphic and Web designer, developed the Noble Black Society’s Web site after printing a newspaper was no longer financially feasible, and he also contributed posts.
“It was really like his brainchild,” said Coleman, a society member.
At Howard, Sykes had expressed a strong interest in social justice. Last month, he posted a video coinciding with the start of George Zimmerman’s murder trial in Sanford, Fla., on the society’s Web site. The video showed accomplished young black men donning hooded sweatshirts asking, “Am I suspicious?”
“In our society it seems like social injustices are treated in a case by case fashion but it only makes sense that if we are to combat social issues we need to promote social change,” Sykes wrote in an introduction to the video. “These things are not a fad, and their effects are felt much longer than the media is willing to cover them.”
A vigil was held Friday night on campus. Jennifer Jenkins, a 2006 Howard graduate and fellow Alpha Phi Omega member, has known Sykes since he was 12.
“I don’t think there’s a measurement of how devastating it is,” she said.
The Thursday night shooting comes several months after Howard University police said they had documented a small spike in violent crime, including a series of armed robberies, thefts and assaults, on and around the university’s campus.
Last fall, a student was carjacked in a campus parking lot. Four students were attacked while returning from a party. A gunman held up a man outside the campus theater, and a student was robbed at gunpoint at the school stadium. In October, a student in an off-campus residence hall was robbed by gunmen who broke into his room.
The university has an open campus that is accessible from Georgia Avenue.
Despite the increase in violent crime, Howard University Police Chief Leroy James had said last fall that overall crime in and around the campus had dropped. Since James took over in 2008, robberies dropped from 47 to 29 in 2010, 22 in 2011 and 14 as of October 2012.
“Unfortunately, senseless acts of violence are too commonplace in communities around the nation and we must do more to ensure that promising young men and women have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Howard University President Sidney A. Ribeau wrote in a letter to the campus community.
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.