I do not know Richard Collins III and Nabra Hassanen personally, but I have been affected deeply by their deaths. I cannot truly know or feel the pain and suffering their family and loved ones are going through, because I am not in their shoes. I am writing this blog to honor the legacies of the short lives of both Lt. Collins and Nabra, two innocent young souls who were brutally murdered, and to reflect upon their amazing accomplishments. Richard and Nabra, this is for you...
Richard Collins III, a black Bowie State student and an Army Lieutenant, was fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack, which took place on the University of Maryland, College Park campus, while he was waiting for an Uber. Lt. Collins was killed by Sean Urbanski, a member of the now-deleted Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation, which posted disparaging content about women, African Americans, Latinos, and others. He was killed three days before his graduation from Bowie State University. Instead of his parents and loved ones seeing Lt. Collins walk across the stage in his cap and gown, they saw his graduation gown draped over a chair in the front row during the Bowie State commencement ceremony, incidentally held at the University of Maryland campus. His father, Richard Collins Jr., walked across the stage to receive his slain son’s diploma. The horrific tragedy shook both the University of Maryland and Bowie State campus communities. The tragedy was a reminder that hate still exists, even on college campuses.
Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old black Hijabi Muslim girl, was assaulted and beaten to death with a baseball bat near an All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque in Reston, Virginia. Her body was found by local law enforcement in a nearby pond on Father’s Day. Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old, chased and killed Nabra after an argument. Nabra and her friends were walking back to the ADAMS Center from a fast-food restaurant after a late night prayer during the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Nabra’s family and friends found out about her death on Father’s Day. Her father discovered his elder daughter was brutally killed on a day she would have been at home celebrating with him. Nabra’s high school friends were informed about her tragic death a few days before their high school graduation, which is supposed to be an event of happiness and celebration. However, after the unfortunate incident, her friends had to confront and come to terms with losing one of their own.
Both Nabra and Lt. Collins were on their way to being successful and making their parents proud. However, the suspects in both cases did not know a single thing about them before brutally killing them both. The suspect did not know that Collins was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lieutenant just two days prior to his death and was on the verge of graduation. He did not know that Collins was on his way to serving the country by joining others who put their lives on the line each day to make us safe. The suspect in Nabra’s case did not know that she hosted an Iftar dinner (breaking of fast) for all of her friends the day before she died. The suspect did not know that Nabra was a hardworking and loving student, known in her community for her amiable personality, and had just finished 10th grade from South Lakes High School. He did not know that Nabra stood at Dulles Airport extending a helping hand to all those detained amid the travel ban. No one deserves to be treated in such a vile and inhumane manner.
It is yet to be determined whether the killings of Nabra and Lt. Collins will be categorized as acts of terror or hate crimes. START’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) defines a terrorist attack as the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation (GTD Codebook). Investigations are ongoing into the motives of the defendants in both cases, and we don’t know whether or not the vicious acts of violence they inflicted on Nabra and Lt. Collins had a political or ideological agenda. Although we don’t yet know whether these senseless acts of violence constitute a hate crime, we do know from recent events that people of color are often the targets of racism and violence. Their fears matter; their lives matter.
Having attended vigils for both Lt. Collins and Nabra, I saw the prodigious outpouring of love and support from people of diverse backgrounds and faiths. The common expression that I heard people chorusing unanimously was, “It could have been me, my friend, any of us.” It is true that it could have literally been any of us. It didn’t have to be Nabra. It didn’t have to be Lt Collins. It didn’t have to be anyone. Both of these exasperating incidents reinforce the fact that hostility pervades the corridors of college campuses and places of worship. During difficult times like these, we must remember the lives and legacy of love and compassion that Lt. Collins and Nabra have left behind. They both have left this Earth, but their legacy will never be forgotten. We can pray that justice will prevail in both cases. Let’s continue to support ourselves and encourage each other during difficult times and in all endeavors. Let’s take a stand against racial violence and oppression against Muslims, Black Americans, and other minorities. Let’s work every day to show love and compassion to others, as Lt. Collins and Nabra have exemplified. Only love can drive away hate. No matter how long hate persists in our environments, through love, we will overcome hatred and violence.