COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The FBI is investigating the unprovoked stabbing of a black man at the University of Maryland as a possible hate crime after a white student who belonged to a racist Facebook group was arrested nearby with a knife in his pocket, police said.
University of Maryland student Sean Christopher Urbanski was charged with first- and second-degree murder, and first-degree assault. His first court hearing was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Richard Collins III, 23, was stabbed early Saturday while visiting friends at the College Park campus. He had just been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and would have graduated Tuesday from Bowie State University, police said.
The killing was met with shock and fear on both campuses, which are nearby each other in suburban Washington. Bowie State, a historically black school, is having its commencement ceremony Tuesday in the same basketball stadium on the College Park campus where Maryland held its ceremony on Sunday.
“If I’m a person of color I would certainly look at this as something that could happen to me. In fact, I know on Facebook our students are saying that,” said University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell.
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh led students and families in a moment of silence for Collins at Sunday’s commencement. He called it a “senseless and unprovoked assault,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“We are still in shock that a young man, so full of promise, should have his life cut short, so suddenly,” Loh said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and with the entire Bowie State University community.”
Mitchell said he asked for the FBI’s help after learning that Urbanski, 22, belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” where members post disparaging material about African-Americans and others.
“We are here to evaluate that as an ongoing concern with respect to whether or not this was a hate crime,” Gordon Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Baltimore, said at a news conference Sunday evening.
An attorney for Urbanski did not immediately return a message left at his office on Monday. A message left Sunday at a number listed for his home in Severna Park was not immediately returned.
Urbanski was added to the “Alt-Reich” Facebook group by an administrator in February. The group, which was taken down after the stabbing, had about 1,100 members and included racist, sexist and anti-Semitic photos and posts.
Officials said Collins was with two friends waiting for an Uber ride at about 3 a.m. Saturday when they heard Urbanski screaming and watched him approach.
Urbanski said “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you,” according to the charging documents. Collins said ‘no,’ and Urbanski stabbed him once in the chest, the documents say.
Officers found Urbanski sitting on a bench about 50 feet from where Collins collapsed, with a knife in his front right pocket, the documents say.
Urbanski graduated from Severna Park High School in 2013, where he made the honor roll in 11th grade, according to media reports. Urbanski was not scheduled to graduate from the University of Maryland this year, police said.
Dr. Artie Lee Travis, vice president for student affairs at Bowie State, said the school hopes the investigation moves forward as quickly as possible.
“Hate has no place in America,” Travis said. “Hate has no place on a college campus, where young minds are coming together to try to change the world,” he said.
Brian Douglas, who got to know Collins when they took a class together, said the man was looking forward to graduation.
“He was just nice, just a good young man all around. You can’t find those too often in today’s society,” Douglas said.
Ciera Sorrell, who also took a class with Collins, said his killing shocked the Bowie State community.
“Everyone is in disbelief,” she said. “He seemed so excited to get to live his life and he doesn’t have that chance anymore.”
Richer reported from Richmond, Virginia.