FBI investigating whether University of Maryland stabbing was hate-based

PHOTO: People gather for a candlelight vigil at a bus shelter at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md, Sunday, May 21, 2017PlayAP
WATCH FBI investigates UMD stabbing as hate-based

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether the weekend stabbing of a black college student in Maryland was racially motivated, authorities said Sunday.

Sean Urbanski, a 22-year-old University of Maryland student, has been charged with first- and second-degree murder, and first-degree assault in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, authorities said.

Police called the attack random and "totally unprovoked."

The university’s police department said it asked the FBI to assist in the investigation after it discovered that Urbanski, who is white, belonged to a racist Facebook group called Alt-Reich.

“New information obtained today from witnesses and other sources has led law enforcement officials to consider a hate-bias motive in this case,” University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said in a statement Sunday. “To ensure a comprehensive investigation, UMPD today asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide technical and forensic expertise, which it agreed to do.“

Urbanski is being held without bond, according to police. He is due in court next month.

Collins, a student at Bowie State University in Maryland, was visiting the UMD campus when he was stabbed in the chest by a man who he apparently did not know, according to police.

Collins was set to graduate on Tuesday, and he was recently commissioned in the Army as a second lieutenant, officials said.

Collins was waiting for an Uber with friends at around 3 a.m. when Urbanski allegedly approached him, screaming, according to officials.

Urbanski reportedly told the victim to "step left if you know what's best for you," according to police. Collins replied "no" before Urbanski allegedly stabbed him once in the chest, authorities said.

College Park Police Chief David Mitchell said the attack has caused some students, particularly students of color, to fear for their safety on the campus.

"We’re seeing tension here. We’re doing our best to combat that,” Mitchell while speaking at press conference on Sunday. "We love our freedom, and we are not giving it up."

When asked if the university had previous knowledge of the hate group's existence on campus, Mitchell stated that there is "a fine line here between criminal misconduct and First Amendment free speech."

He said the university is looking into other students who may be involved with the Facebook group and their involvement on campus.

Officials said that they do not know yet if any drugs were in the suspect’s system but said they would seek to find out.

University of Maryland President Loh said the school has substantially increased visible patrols, on and off campus, but he said that is not enough.

"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," he said. "We all grieve together for a promising life ended far too early."

A vigil is scheduled for Collins on Monday evening at Bowie State University in Bowie.

"It is a tragic loss to see our national treasure, in the form of Lt. Collins, taken away from us in this manner," FBI spokesman Gordon Johnson said at a press conference Sunday.

People who knew Collins described him as a "good young man" who was excited about his future.

Brian Douglas, who said he became close with Collins after they took a course together, told The Associated Press on Sunday that he was looking forward to graduation.

"He was just nice, just a good young man all around. You can't find those too often in today's society," Douglas said.

Collins' pastor, Darryl Godlock, said the victim's family is taking the loss hard.

"The family is just devastated,” Godlock told ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, WJLA, on Sunday. "This young man's career was ready to excel."

ABC News' Chad Murray and Lucien Buggeman contributed to this report.