About 8 p.m. Thursday, the students in Suite 208 of the Christa McAuliffe residence hall were getting ready for what should have been a fun night out at Bowie State University’s homecoming week comedy show.
Alexis Simpson, a 19-year-old newcomer to the college, abruptly turned off the iPod playing in the suite. Everyone asked her to turn the music back on. “No,” she said, according to an account in court papers.
Then the simplest of roommate spats turned deadly.
Simpson and Dominique Frazier, 18, started to yell, and the fight turned physical. Someone in the suite split them up, pushing Simpson into her bedroom. But Simpson came back with what looked like a knife and stabbed Frazier in the neck, the court papers say.
“I didn’t mean to do it. You all don’t know what I’ve been through. You all jumped me,” Simpson said before she ran out of the dorm.
Frazier clutched at her throat, staggered into the hallway and collapsed.
The two women had known each other just weeks. Simpson, school officials said, had been randomly placed in the four-bedroom suite after she transferred to the school from Clark Atlanta University. But witnesses told police that the two didn’t get along and had been arguing for at least the past week.
Denise Frazier, Dominique Frazier’s mother, said her daughter complained of tensions with Simpson. But when she offered to call school officials to request a transfer, Dominique told her not to.
“No, Mom,” Dominique said, “we’re just having words now.”
Simpson, who turned herself in to Prince George’s County police late Thursday night, was charged with first-degree murder, among other counts. She is being held at the county jail.
The mood on campus Friday was somber, with hundreds of students and faculty members packing into the gymnasium for a community meeting. Bowie State, Maryland’s oldest historically black college, canceled classes for the day and suspended homecoming festivities until the evening, when organizers of a fashion show planned to add a presentation of all-black outfits in honor of Frazier, who was remembered as a fun-loving woman who loved fashion and embraced her Twitter alias, “MsBonnieBlakk.”
“Dominique Frazier, a precious life, a valued member of our university community, has been taken from us,” President Mickey L. Burnim said at the meeting. “Our community and our family has permanently changed.”
Frazier, who was studying business administration, would have celebrated her 19th birthday Sunday, her mother said. They planned to go to Red Lobster, as they did every year.
Now, her mother said, there will be a vigil in their Northeast Washington neighborhood instead. Denise Frazier said she and her daughter were close, talking and texting often. They last spoke by phone Thursday morning, ending their conversation with “I love you.”
Dominique Frazier had a contagious, silly laugh, her mother said. She loved to cook and dreamed of opening a restaurant called “Cooking from the Soul.” Her father, who taught her to cook, died of cancer last year.
“I just buried her father last year. Now I have to bury my baby,” Denise Frazier said.
Friends said Dominique Frazier was not the type to fight.
“She was always optimistic, always upbeat,” said Jessica Sanders, 19, a sophomore psychology major who had a class with Frazier.
Frazier graduated from Friendship Collegiate Academy, a D.C. public charter school, in 2010 with a 3.4 GPA, said Angela Bugayong, assistant programs officer for the College Success Foundation in the District and Frazier’s college-prep adviser. Frazier was accepted to a number of schools but chose Bowie State because it was close to her home in the District and she felt more comfortable there, Bugayong said. She had received $22,000 in scholarships, authorities said.
“She had a bright future ahead of her,” Bugayong said. “She was very helpful, was always in the office here assisting me and the other college-prep adviser.”
Simpson had transferred to Bowie State from Clark Atlanta because of rising costs there, said Chene Byrd, 23, of Petworth, who said he and Simpson dated in Atlanta last year. Byrd said he is an alumnus of Clark Atlanta and still travels back to the city to arrange go-go concerts, which is how he met Simpson.
“She is the sweetest girl. . . . Her nickname was Sweet, and it was because of that personality. She is outgoing and just as nice as can be,” Byrd said.
He said he had received Twitter messages from Simpson in the past several days that “indicated she was not real comfortable going back to her room, but nothing specific. I got the sense she didn’t feel welcome there, but that’s just a sense, nothing she said.”
He also said that “she didn’t say anything” that would explain the statement attributed to Simpson in arrest records: “You all don’t know what I’ve been through.”
Byrd said: “I don’t know what that could have been about. If there had been some really big problem, I believe she would have told me.”
Simpson had said that “she wished she had stayed in Atlanta, and she was unhappy up there,” according to Byrd, but she “didn’t talk about anything that would bring things to a point where a life was lost,” he added.
“People get into it with their roommates all the time — that’s college,” Byrd said, “but for something to have happened like they are saying, it had to be in the heat of the moment, and who knows how that went. I just know she is a nice, sweet girl.”
Simpson, who had lived with her mother in a townhouse in District Heights, seemed to always have “a goal,” said Donnie Payne, 52, who lives across the street from the family. He said that Simpson was “very polite,” although at times he saw her argue and heard that she had gotten into fights with other young women.
Still, neighbors said the fighting was often the result of bullying. Simpson often wore nice clothing and accessories her mother bought her, which sometimes drew the ire of others in the neighborhood or at school, said Denise Jackson, 49, another neighbor. Jackson said that on one occasion, she intervened when a group seemed to be trying to mug Jackson, whom she described as a “sweet girl.”
Simpson didn’t bother anybody, Jackson said. “People just pick on her.”
Simpson’s family could not be reached to comment. On Friday, Maryland State Police turned a reporter away from the family home, apparently because they were conducting a search.
After the community meeting on campus, students sang the school song. They put their arms around each other. Many cried.
Artie Lee Travis, vice president for student affairs, became emotional as he told students that it was a time to “think about a life that was taken away from us.”
“Remember to resolve situations, to agree to not be disagreeable, to be civil and not uncivil, to leave a legacy and not leave a record,” Travis said through tears. “Don’t let another young person leave this Earth because they can’t understand how to work together to resolve conflicts.”
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, Mary Pat Flaherty, Maggie Fazeli Fard and Jimm Phillips and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.