A lawyer for a University of Maryland student accused of fatally stabbing a Bowie State University student said alcohol and substance abuse may have been factors in a case that also is being investigated as a hate crime.
The attack on Richard W. Collins III unnerved students and administrators at both universities, which are in the middle of spring commencement celebrations. What should have been a joyous occasion turned into mourning for friends and family of Collins, 23, who was slain two days after being commissioned in the U.S. Army and days before he was to graduate from Bowie State.
Collins, an African American, was visiting two friends on the U-Md. campus Saturday when police say he was attacked by Sean Urbanski, 22, a white U-Md. student.
Urbanski, of Severna Park, Md., was charged with first- and second-degree murder and first-
degree assault in what police said was a “totally unprovoked” attack.
Prince George’s County District Court Judge Patrice E. Lewis said Monday that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that Urbanski “is an absolute danger to the community” before ordering that he remain in jail pending trial. But the judge said he could be considered for GPS-monitored release at a later date.
Urbanski’s attorney, William C. Brennan, told the judge that “alcohol and substance abuse may have played a significant role in all of this.”
Brennan had asked the judge to order GPS monitoring and other release conditions. Brennan said his client has no criminal record and deep ties to the Maryland community.
On Sunday, University of Maryland police announced the FBI’s work in the case to determine whether the attack was a hate crime. Urbanski appeared to have been involved in an online Facebook group that posts racist material, police and FBI officials said.
The hate-crime aspect remains under review, but any charges along those lines would not be filed until the homicide investigation concludes, law enforcement officials said.
“We want to be careful that we do not speculate in any way, shape, form or fashion,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said Monday. “This is an investigation that we cannot afford to get wrong.”
Students and faculty at Bowie State held a candlelight vigil in Collins’s memory Monday evening — the night before he was to graduate and hours after Urbanski made his first court appearance.
Collins and his friends were waiting for an Uber ride on Regents Drive near Montgomery Hall about 3 a.m. Saturday when they heard Urbanski screaming as he approached the trio, according to police charging documents.
“Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” Urbanski told Collins, according to charging papers.
Collins said, “No,” according to police. Urbanski continued to come toward the group and then stabbed Collins in the chest, police said.
Collins was taken to a hospital, where he died. Urbanski was picked up by Prince George’s County police about 50 feet from where Collins had collapsed, court papers state. Police recovered a knife from Urbanski’s front right pocket, police said.
Collins, from Calvert County, was airborne certified and a member of the university’s ROTC, said a family spokesman, the Rev. Darryl L. Godlock. Collins was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army last week. Video on Facebook of the commissioning ceremony showed Collins on stage in his dress-blue uniform and his parents pinning lieutenant bars on their son. Before leaving the stage, his mother gave him a peck on the cheek.
“The parents are totally devastated that their young son, that was at the peak of his career about to take off, and his life was taken away senselessly,” said Godlock, a pastor at Calvert County Baptist Church in Prince Frederick, Md.
Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, a professor of military science at Bowie State, called Collins “my guy” and described him as an “outstanding” cadet and leader on the campus. He told the crowd to grieve and mourn, to remember and laugh, and to celebrate Collins’s life by “being great in everything you do.”
“I ask you, as we move forward, let’s cry,” Thomas said, growing more emotional as he closed his remarks. “Let’s keep on working. Let’s celebrate Richard by being great every day.”
Interview requests left by phone and at a home believed to be that of Urbanski’s family, based on court filings, received no response Monday afternoon. Urbanski’s parents appeared at court for their son’s bond hearing Monday. They did not speak during the proceedings, and their attorney declined to comment after leaving court.
Before attending the University of Maryland, Urbanski received a degree in transfer studies at Anne Arundel Community College, college officials confirmed. Urbanski attended the community college from January 2015 to August 2016.
Racially charged incidents have unsettled U-Md. and college campuses throughout the Washington region. In recent months, white supremacist fliers posted on the campus where Collins was attacked read, “It is your civic duty to report any and all illegal aliens” and “They are criminals. America is a white nation.”
Valente Ortiz, a master sergeant and senior military instructor with the Bowie State ROTC, remembered Collins as a scholar, athlete and leader, a “great” cadet.
“He was charismatic,” Ortiz said.
On any given day, Ortiz said he could tell Collins that a physical fitness test was coming. “He’ll be like, ‘Roger, Master Sergeant,’ ” Ortiz said. “And he would show up at 5 o’clock in the morning and he would blow them out of the water. I’m like, that’s what I’m talking about, that’s the guy I’m talking about.”
Collins was carrying on a family legacy of military service, Ortiz said.
“He was a great leader, he was a great person,” he said. “Find something in your heart that’s going to ultimately drive you to success, like he did.”
On Monday, the bus stop where Collins was stabbed had become a makeshift memorial. Many unlit candles dotted the bus stop bench and a few bouquets had been placed there.
Diane Teichert, 64, of University Park, visited the stop with her 31-year-old son, Ross Milton. They brought pink roses from her garden and wedged them in the bench.
Teichert, who is white, said she didn’t know Collins but had come out because “I feel like that white people need to be as sad and as angry as black people about these incidents.”
She said she felt “terrible sadness and anger and sorrow,” her voice growing more emotional. “And renewed energy to try to do something about it. Which I don’t think putting some flowers at a memorial is enough.”
Luz Lazo and Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.