Behind the tweet: Lt. Richard Collins III’s graduation gown

WASHINGTON – The symbolism was simple, thoughtful, painful and helpful.

The image of the graduation gown of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, draped over a front row chair during Bowie State University’s Tuesday’s commencement ceremony, three days after his murder, will likely be one of the most enduring memories of a heartbreaking story imbued with commitment, excellence, violence and hate.
Live coverage: Bowie State student remembered at funeral

Collins was fatally stabbed Saturday morning, while visiting friends on the University of Maryland campus. A Maryland student, Sean Christopher Urbanski, was immediately arrested and now faces charges of first degree murder, second degree murder and assault.

The family of U.S. Army Lt. Richard Collins III -- who was murdered two days after being commissioned -- is seeking an exception, to allow him to be granted military honors (File, U.S. Army via AP)
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Richard Collins III. Authorities appealed for patience Monday, May 22, 2017, from two college communities reacting in shock, fear and anger after Sean Urbanski, 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 Collins as a possible hate crime, because the suspect, Urbanski, became a member of a racist Facebook group several months ago. (U.S. Army via AP) (AP)
Richard Collins III, 23, was a Bowie State University student who was about to graduate and was just commissioned last week to join the Army as second lieutenant. In the early hours of Saturday, he was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland's College Park campus. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Richard Collins III, 23, was a Bowie State University student who was about to graduate and was just commissioned last week to join the Army as second lieutenant. In the early hours of Saturday, he was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
This is the scene where a male Bowie State University student was stabbed Saturday morning at the University of Maryland. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
This is the scene where a male Bowie State University student was stabbed Saturday morning at the University of Maryland. (WTOP/Dick Uliano) (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
People gathered at the bus stop on University of Maryland campus where Richard Collins III was stabbed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
People gathered at the bus stop on University of Maryland campus where Richard Collins III was stabbed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim on the death of student Richard Collins III: "You have to wonder, what is wrong with our world?" (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim on the death of student Richard Collins III: “You have to wonder, what is wrong with our world?” (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, professor of Military Sciences, wipes tears from his face while memorializing Richard Collins III during a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. Collins was commissioned into the Army from the college's ROTC program. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, professor of Military Sciences, wipes tears from his face while memorializing Richard Collins III during a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State’s auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. Collins was commissioned into the Army from the college’s ROTC program. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
At the Monday night vigil for Richard Collins III, who was just about to graduate from Bowie State University. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
At the Monday night vigil for Richard Collins III, who was just about to graduate from Bowie State University. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Marquise Wade, from left, sophomore class president, and Darrin Branch, coordinator of Greek Life on campus, set up a picture of Richard Collins III for a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Marquise Wade, from left, sophomore class president, and Darrin Branch, coordinator of Greek Life on campus, set up a picture of Richard Collins III for a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State’s auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Bowie State University ROTC students comfort each other during a memorial vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Bowie State University ROTC students comfort each other during a memorial vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State’s auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
FILE -- Relatives of Richard Collins III, center, release balloons during a candlelight vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Relatives of Richard Collins III, center, release balloons during a candlelight vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Henry Stawinski, Gordon Johnson, David Mitchell, Wallace Loh, Artie Lee Travis
From left, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, Gordon Johnson, FBI special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell, Prince George’s County Police Chief Henry Stawinski III, and Bowie State University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Artie Lee Travis, gather for a news conference at the University of Maryland Police Department Headquarters in College Park, Md, Sunday, May 21, 2017, about the stabbing death of a visiting student at the University of Maryland. A University of Maryland student was charged Sunday with fatally stabbing a visiting student on campus in what police have described as an unprovoked attack that rattled the school over graduation weekend. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The image of murdered Lt. Richard Collins III's gown at the Bowie State University graduation has prompted a wide variety of emotions. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
The image of murdered Lt. Richard Collins III’s gown at the Bowie State University graduation has prompted a wide variety of emotions. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein) (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
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The family of U.S. Army Lt. Richard Collins III -- who was murdered two days after being commissioned -- is seeking an exception, to allow him to be granted military honors (File, U.S. Army via AP)
Richard Collins III, 23, was a Bowie State University student who was about to graduate and was just commissioned last week to join the Army as second lieutenant. In the early hours of Saturday, he was stabbed to death on the University of Maryland's College Park campus. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
This is the scene where a male Bowie State University student was stabbed Saturday morning at the University of Maryland. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)
People gathered at the bus stop on University of Maryland campus where Richard Collins III was stabbed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim on the death of student Richard Collins III: "You have to wonder, what is wrong with our world?" (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Lt. Col. Joel Thomas, professor of Military Sciences, wipes tears from his face while memorializing Richard Collins III during a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. Collins was commissioned into the Army from the college's ROTC program. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
At the Monday night vigil for Richard Collins III, who was just about to graduate from Bowie State University. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Marquise Wade, from left, sophomore class president, and Darrin Branch, coordinator of Greek Life on campus, set up a picture of Richard Collins III for a memorial vigil for Collins, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Bowie State University ROTC students comfort each other during a memorial vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State's auditorium in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
FILE -- Relatives of Richard Collins III, center, release balloons during a candlelight vigil for Richard Collins III, who was killed Saturday at the University of Maryland in College Park, as they gather at Bowie State in Bowie, Md., Monday, May 22, 2017. 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. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Henry Stawinski, Gordon Johnson, David Mitchell, Wallace Loh, Artie Lee Travis
The image of murdered Lt. Richard Collins III's gown at the Bowie State University graduation has prompted a wide variety of emotions. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

University police chief David Mitchell said Urbanski was a member of a white supremacist Facebook group, and the FBI is investigating whether Collins’ murder should be classified as a hate crime.

A photo of the gown on a white folding chair, taken on an iPhone 7, as the Xfinity Center began to fill up for the ceremony, has been seen on Twitter by almost 11 million people and has drawn reactions ranging from despair to furor and from sympathy to thanks.

Several people expressed gratitude to the university for its quiet tribute to Collins.

The idea for placing a gown in a seat of honor came from university administrators, as they discussed how they would recognize the loss of the graduating senior, who days earlier had been commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

“It was a symbolic way to represent that loss,” university spokesperson Cassandra Robinson told WTOP.

Robinson said the university provided the gown to create the recognition.

“The fact he was killed on the brink of a positive milestone in his life, combined with the tragedy of his death occurring in an unprovoked manner had already resonated with people around the world,” Robinson said. “Because so many people were already feeling that tragedy, the draped chair became a visual manifestation of the magnitude of the loss.”

Yet, some people felt the tweet was lacking some important information.

Here’s the reason why. Actually, a couple of reasons:

First, Sean Urbanski has not been charged with a hate crime. Even though he may be in a white supremacist group, investigators would have to determine if Richard Collins was stabbed because he was African American. While social media permits those sorts of leaps, the ethics of journalism do not.

Second, this event was to honor the hard work of Bowie State University students and their missing classmate. I wanted the photo and tweet to celebrate them. The story I wrote about the graduation didn’t mention Collins’ alleged killer by name.

With only 140 characters, it’s difficult to tell a whole story in a single tweet. Sometimes a tweet captures a single moment.

Over time, and as the case against Sean Urbanski develops, there will be plenty of time to focus on motive.

By its nature, social media moments are generally here, then quickly gone. And forgotten.

In this case, the life’s commitment, success and promise of a young student, officer and man was here, then quickly gone too.

What’s different is Lt. Richard Collins III won’t be forgotten.


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