Prosecutor: Too early to call school stabbing a hate crime

This photo released by the University of Maryland Police Department shows Sean Urbanski. Urbanski was charged Sunday, May 21, 2017, with fatally stabbing a visiting student on campus in what police have described as an unprovoked attack that rattled the school over graduation weekend. Urbanski of Severna Park, M.D., faces charges of first- and second-degree murder as well as first-degree assault for the alleged attack that took place early Saturday, May, 20, 2017, police said. (University of Maryland Police Department via AP)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Authorities appealed for patience Monday from two college communities reacting in shock, fear and anger after a white University of Maryland student was arrested in what police called the unprovoked stabbing of a black Bowie State University student.

Police and the FBI are investigating the killing of Richard Collins III as a possible hate crime, because the suspect, Sean Urbanski, became a member of a racist Facebook group several months ago.

Hundreds filled an auditorium Monday night at Bowie State University, where friends, family and students who completed ROTC with Collins remembered his selflessness, humor and courage.

“This is a beautiful sight, just to see everybody here united to uplift the family,” said Yasmeen Jordan, the senior class president.

Later, people stood at a candlelight vigil outside and released balloons. Both inside and outside, classmates hugged and cried.

“I know people are hurting,” Police Chief Hank Stawinski said. “I know that people are drawing conclusions. I know that social media moves in its own way.

“But I’m asking as the Chief of Police in Prince George’s County … that we take pause and allow all these investigators to do their work. They will know to a certainty what lies behind this, but we’re not there yet.”

Urbanski, who was denied bond Monday at his first court hearing, was intoxicated during the slaying early Saturday, and police are awaiting results of drug tests.

Defense attorney William C. Brennan argued that since the 22-year-old had no criminal record, he should be allowed to live at home with a GPS monitor and receive alcohol abuse treatment while his case goes forward. The judge declined, for now.

Collins, 23, who was visiting friends at the College Park campus, had just been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and would have graduated Tuesday from Bowie State.

Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, who runs the ROTC unit at Bowie State, described Collins as intelligent, athletic, personable and with all the makings of an outstanding military leader.

“Richard cared deeply about his friends, cared deeply about others and he was exactly what we are looking for when we’re selecting officers for the United States Army,” Thomas said.

The killing roiled both campuses, which are nearby each other in suburban Washington. Bowie State, a historically black school, is having its commencement Tuesday in the same stadium on the College Park campus where Maryland held its ceremony 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,” University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell said.

Gordon Johnson, who runs the FBI office in Baltimore, answered Mitchell’s call for help investigating the stabbing as a possible hate crime after authorities learned that Urbanski was added to the “Alt-Reich: Nation” 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. Police said Sunday that they hadn’t found any posts from Urbanski in the group.

“If the evidence leads us to conclude this was a hate crime, then we will have no hesitation whatsoever handling it as such,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said at a news conference.

She said she understands people’s concerns, but it’s too early to draw conclusions, and prosecutors “need something probably more than a Facebook post.”

Officials said Collins was with two friends waiting for an Uber ride at about 3 a.m. 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 appeared for Monday’s hearing from jail via a television feed. The judge said his bond request could be revisited later. His lawyer and parents left without commenting. A message left at his home number in Severna Park was not immediately returned.

A 2013 graduate of Severna Park High School, Urbanski 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.

Zach Lessner, who was in a bowling league with him, said he didn’t expect Urbanski “would be the person to commit this horrendous act.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement on Facebook Monday that the person responsible “must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Violence and hatred have no place in our communities and will never be tolerated,” he said.

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Witte reported from Bowie. Video Journalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report from College Park and Alanna Durkin Richer contributed from Richmond, Virginia.