By Carly Kempler, Jessie Campisi and Mina Haq
Senior staff writers
University of Maryland Police are working with the FBI to investigate whether the fatal stabbing of a Bowie State University student on this university’s campus Saturday was a hate crime.
Sean Christopher Urbanski, a white 22-year-old student at this university, was charged with first- and second-degree murder, as well as first-degree assault, in connection with the stabbing of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a black student at Bowie State University. Urbanski is being held without bond.
Collins was a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was set to graduate on Tuesday.
Urbanski approached Collins and his two friends at about 3 a.m. Saturday morning and said to Collins, “Step left, step left if you know what’s good for you,” University Police Chief David Mitchell said at a news conference Sunday evening. Collins “looked puzzled” and said no before Urbanski stabbed him in the chest, causing Collins to fall backward.
Collins was pronounced dead at Prince George’s Hospital’s Trauma Center later that morning.
Mitchell said Saturday that this was a random incident, and there was no indication race played a factor, but said at Sunday’s news conference that Urbanski’s apparent membership in a Facebook group containing racist posts “brings questions to the motive in this case.” Urbanski appears to be a member of the Facebook group “Alt-Reich: Nation,” which contains numerous racist posts.
“If I was a person of color, I would fear this would happen to me,” Mitchell said. “I know students of our campus are concerned about that.”
FBI special agent Gordon Johnson said it is not uncommon for the bureau to be involved with “this type” of investigation in the early stages. He said they will wait to determine if this was a hate crime after the homicide investigation is complete.
“We are here to evaluate that as an ongoing concern to determine if this was a hate crime,” Johnson said.
While University Police are handling the investigation, the FBI and Prince George’s County Police are providing additional resources to the department to “give justice and combat fear,” Mitchell said.
Extra patrol will be implemented, and county police are adding resources to the city and surrounding community, Mitchell said. The FBI will assist in technical and digital forensics.
“When it comes to combating fear, there’s no better antidote than seeing a uniformed officer [or] safety ambassador … it’s a united front from federal, certainly local and county to ensure the protection and safety of our students,” he said.
Bowie State’s Vice President of Student Affairs Artie Lee Travis called the incident an alleged hate crime, and said the campus is holding a vigil for Collins on Monday.
“Hate has no place in America,” he said. “Hate has no place on a college campus, where young minds are coming together to try to change the world. They can’t change the world if they’re not here.”
University President Wallace Loh said at the news conference that it was important to achieve justice for Collins and provide safety to the campus community.
“My office will do whatever is possible, whatever is necessary to support you in your work, to support the FBI to get to the heart of this matter,” Loh said. “Hate has no place in our country.”
In this week’s mayoral update, Patrick Wojahn, the city’s mayor, titled the email “hatred and tragedy in College Park.”
“I write with a heavy heart after tragedy struck in College Park this weekend,” Wojahn wrote. “… I hope to speak with University of Maryland leadership to discuss ways that we can work together to respond to and address incidents of hatred such as this and the noose found at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house earlier this month.”
Earlier this month, a noose was found hanging in the kitchen of this university’s Phi Kappa Tau chapter house. University Police are investigating the event as a hate bias incident.
In an email to the campus community following the news conference Sunday night, Loh wrote “we must all do more to nurture a climate — on campus and beyond — where we stand against hate, we fight against hate crimes, and we reaffirm the values that define us a university and as a democracy.”
“As we search for answers to this senseless crime, please continue to keep the family and friends of Lt. Collins, and the BSU community, in your thoughts and prayers,” Loh wrote. “We all grieve together for a promising life ended far too early.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story stated that Collins was a former lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. This story has been updated.