WASHINGTON — Mourners at the funeral for the slain Bowie State University student who was fatally stabbed last week heard tearful remembrances from his family, testimonies to his leadership as a newly commissioned Army lieutenant and a plea for racial reconciliation by a pastor who drew his sermon from the story of Cain and Abel.
Richard Collins III, a 23-year-old ROTC cadet was set to graduate from Bowie State this week and had been commissioned to join the Army as a second lieutenant just two days before he was killed.
Prince George’s County police and the FBI are investigating the black student’s death on the campus of the University of Maryland as a possible hate crime; a white University of Maryland student has been charged with first-degree murder in Collins’ death.
Mourners packed the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro for the funeral Friday morning.
Letters from members of Congress were read during the ceremony, including from Rep. Anthony Brown, of Maryland, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas.
A letter from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker read during the ceremony stated: “Our hearts were shattered by this tremendous loss to you, your family and our community. The story and the tragedy of his death have touched people all over this country. Since the day we learned of Richard’s death, so many of us have wondered how could this happen? He was a young man with so much promise. He was everything we want our youth to be: a person with selfless devotion to his family, friends and to our nation.”
The funeral service came days after an emotional Bowie State commencement ceremony at which Collins’ absence was marked by an empty chair draped with his graduation gown — a striking visual symbol of the loss Collins’ death represented to his family and community.
The service Friday began with a performance of the Star Spangled Banner and ended with the solemn ritual of the presentation to Collins’ family of the flag that had draped his coffin during the service.
Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, assistant chief of staff for installation management, recalled how she commissioned Collins and his fellow Bowie State cadets during a ceremony last week — just two days before he was killed.
“The day of his commissioning ceremony, I vividly remember meeting him for the first time. And what struck me with such great pride was his positive attitude, his vivacious smile and excitement,” Bingham said.
Collins was set join to the military intelligence corps and would have soon reported for training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Collins’ father and grandfather also served in the military.
“He was so proud to wear the uniform, and he looked sharp in it,” Bingham said.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Hughes, commanding general of the Army Cadet Corps said he received dozens of letters from Collins’ peers praising him as a natural leader and a reliable friend, often offering fellow cadets rides to the Metro and to physical fitness training.
“Remember that this is the legacy of a young 23-year-old man who wanted to do something greater than himself. He wanted to serve something greater than himself,” Hughes said, later adding: “Richard Collins III did more in his short life than most will do in a full lifetime. What distinguishes him was his character: a man of values; a man of morals.”
Rev. Darryl Godlock, pastor of Calvert County Baptist Church, preached a sermon based on the biblical story of Cain and Abel that bemoaned the “sin of hatred toward one another.”
“America does not have a skin problem. Nor does the world have a skin problem,” Godlock said in conclusion near the end of the nearly two-hour service. “But what the world and America has is a sin problem. See, if the truth be told, whether you’re white, whether you’re black, whether you’re Hispanic, whether you’re Asian, whether you’re from this country, that country — when it’s all said and done, we all bleed red blood.”
The pastor suggested Collins’ death, which police are investigating as a possible hate crime, “may be the backdrop to something bigger.”
Then, shortly before Collins’ coffin was carried from the dais by a military procession, Godlock vowed: “His name will not go in vain. He will not drift off with the headlines. I promise you that. Whatever I do, I will promise you that.”
Similar sentiments were expressed outside of the funeral. Wes Moore, an author and CEO for the nonprofit organization Robin Hood, said he’ll follow the Collins family’s example.
“If there’s anybody and if there’s any family who has a justification for hate and frustration and anger, it is the Collins family,” he said, “and they left us with telling us to go love one another. That’s their ask. That’s their request. And I’m going to follow their request.
“We are going to come out here and we’re going to love harder.”
And Ben Jealous, former NAACP national president, echoed the memorial’s theme of unity. “What I know is that each of us as a citizen of this country is called to struggle to the unity that our founding fathers didn’t know but aspired to,” he said.