The brothers worked at competing shoe stores in Dupont Circle, and they usually drove home together to the apartment they shared in Northeast Washington. But on Thursday, one needed to stay late, and the other was tired and wanted to go home.

Leaving first, Akinwole Olu Williams, 31, hopped on the Metro to Deanwood and then walked the half-mile to his home in the 1000 block of 44th Street near the Anacostia Freeway. D.C. police said he was shot once in the chest outside his building and died a short time later. Police offered no motive in the 11:40 p.m. attack. Relatives suggested a robbery.

Williams graduated in December from Catholic University — after 14 years, on and off — with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He was also taking graduate-level courses with an eye toward law school. He was as comfortable discussing the work of Henry David Thoreau as he was the latest from the hip-hop scene.

According to his older sister, his father was a Howard University professor and their mother raised three children in a house where public radio and library cards qualified as multimedia entertainment.

“Books were our video game. We learned about life through reading,” Kofi Ross Minor said. “What we lacked in money, we made up for in intellect.”

After graduating from Wilson High School, Williams earned good grades in college, but he struggled with money, sometimes leaving school to save for his education. He first attended Catholic University in 1999, and a school spokesman said he was enrolled intermittently.

“He’s a man of character who had challenges . . . but he rose above them,” said the Rev. Althea Smith-Withers, who baptized Williams eight years ago at Pavilion of God church in Northwest Washington. “His errors were not a function of character.”

Smith-Withers said Williams was “gifted intellectually, and he was an avid reader. He was so modest that he didn’t realize he was atypical.”

Williams showed his pastor a transcript with a 3.0 grade-point average when he first dropped out, but he later confided in her about a 2001 felony conviction. His sister said he served three months in jail for hitting a girlfriend, in a dispute over a stolen ring given to him by their grandmother. Court records confirm the conviction but do not provide details.

Williams entered sales and marketing, becoming manager at one shoe store, but recently he returned to sales to get more time for his studies. His latest job was at Comfort One Shoes.

Victor Nakas, a Catholic University spokesman, said the school will invite Williams’s parents to the May commencement and present his diploma to them.

Family and friends remember the determination of the deep-thinking, compassionate young man who achieved that degree.

“He was always his own person. He was a leader,” his sister said. “He was a real man.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this article.