BOWIE, Maryland — Phylecia Faublas can still remember the day she met Richard Collins III two years ago. It was her freshman year at Maryland’s Bowie State University and she and her friends wanted to be part of Baltimore’s protests in 2015.
“I’m Richard,” he told her, “but you can call me Rich because that’s what I’m going to be.”
Collins, known for his witty humor, never missed a beat and always made everyone feel welcomed, Faublas said. That was evident when Faublas said she and her mother were nervous about going back into Baltimore after riots and fires following the death of Freddie Gray’s death.
“We’re going to get there. And we’re going to get back,” Collins assured her.
“It was then that I realized there was something really special about him,” she said. “He was fearless.”
The 23-year-old Army officer and business student was supposed to graduate Monday, but instead police say he was stabbed to death by Sean Christopher Urbanski at the University of Maryland. Urbanski, who is white, is accused of murdering Collins, who was black, in what the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime. Urbanski was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich” and liked pro-Trump, pro-white memes online.
At a fully packed memorial Monday night, Prof. Joel Thomas wept through his speech as he explained that Collins “was my guy” as part of the school’s ROTC program, an outstanding student who competed with the Ranger Challenge team, the Color Guard team, and was selected to attend the prestigious Airborne school.
“He had great values,” Thomas said, “you could count on him.”
Just this past Thursday, Collins was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In a video of his Army commission ceremony played for the audience Monday night, Collins said he faced adversity but found ways to overcome it. His friends said he was hard working, optimistic, and joyful. He was also brave in defending his unpopular opinions, Faublas told the audience.
“He was courageous on being different, on being the underdog. Let’s honor him by going into the world and being as fearless as can be.”
Julian Harrell, 25, a student at BSU and fellow cadet, told The Daily Beast he remembered Collins as a “bundle of joy.” He recalls holing up with him in the library, finishing up their papers for the commission and being nervous about completing it in time.
“Once I found out about his death, I was heartbroken,” he said. “This week was supposed to be awarding time, celebrating, but instead, we’re grieving.”
Collins, who called himself “Mr. Handsome and Wealthy,” was known for his wealth of knowledge, wealth of kindness, and wealth of love, a friend said.
Student Rhian Rose said Collins was “one of the funniest guys you’d meet. He was kind and he loved his country.” Others described the “Bulldog Battalion” cadet as well rounded, respected, and studious.
Outgoing president of BSU, Mickey L. Burnim told The Daily Beast, “A fine young man has been taken down. It’s a sad comment on the state of society and the violence we have to deal with... He was a leader.”
Tara, a juvenile probation officer who didn’t know Collins but attended the vigil to pay her respects to his family, said, “Another promising person. Another life snuffed out because of hatred. We have to do better.”
“How did he know how to do that?” asked Tara, referring to Urbanski.
Urbanski approached Collins and his two friends on the Maryland campus around 3 a.m. on Saturday while they waited for an Uber ride. Witnesses said Urbanski told Collins: “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you.” Collins replied “No” and Urbanski allegedly countered with a knife into his chest.
One man at the memorial called Saturday night’s slaying a “terrorist act” and urged the Trump administration to acknowledge it as such.
Before moving the memorial outdoors, where members of Collins family stood with candles around a flaming torch and released dozens of balloons into the night sky, Shirelle Briscoe, BSU assistant vice president for undergraduate studies, also known as the school’s “fairy godmother,” had a message for students:
“Even in his last days, his last hours, based on the reports, he stood firm for what he believed in,” she said. “Do not be discouraged. Justice will prevail... And remember the one journey that you should always take, should be filled with love.”