Aug 22, 2022
Parents of murdered Army officer push for burial at Arlington cemetery Transcript
In May 2017, Richard Collins III had just been commissioned into the U.S. Army when he was stabbed to death at a university bus stop. Read the transcript here.
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In May 2017, Richard Collins III was days away from graduating Bowie State University and had just been commissioned into the US Army, when he was waiting at a campus bus stop after visiting friends. A white University of Maryland student approached Collins and stabbed him to death after ordering him to move out of the way.
His killer had links to a white supremacist group, and was sentenced to life in prison for what prosecutors said was a racially motivated hate crime. For years, the Collins family has been pushing Arlington National Cemetery to have their son buried among the heroes there. A request that has repeatedly been denied. As Rick and Dawn Collins told me, it’s a battle they’ll keep fighting to honor their son.
Dawn Collins: (00:45)
We feel that our son was at the pinnacle of life and that he should receive all military honors. He took an oath to defend this country against all, and I’m using the word all, foreign and… both foreign and domestic terrorists. So we feel that our son was murdered in an act of terrorism. And so therefore, he should be placed at rest in Arlington Cemetery, National Cemetery.
Mr. Collins, a question about the timing. As I understand it, after your son’s death, you were consumed with the trial, making sure that his killer was brought to justice. After that, you set up a foundation to preserve his legacy. All of that took time. Is that why now, five years later, you’re coming back to this issue of his burial?
Rick Collins: (01:37)
Yes, Geoff, this has been an ongoing, I guess you could say, ordeal, for my wife and I and all of our family since this occurred. As I’m sure you can imagine, the shock of something so horrific happening to your own child, your only son, and to later find out through the course of the trial and listening to law enforcement, explain to you how the individual that stole his life was involved in actions, or groups, with ideology based on domestic terror. And we find it quite striking that this would happen.
And what’s been the response so far from the defense department, from the Department of Veterans Affairs, from Arlington National?
Rick Collins: (02:29)
We spent quite a bit of time in reaching out to the Veterans Administration, as well as the army, writing letters and actually making contact with staff through phone calls, to petition for our son to receive full military honors, which is something that wasn’t offered at the time he was murdered, due to the technicality of the Army’s policies. So that’s what we’re trying to have rectified now.
In preparing to speak with you both, I reached out to Arlington National and they gave us a statement that says much of what you said, Mr. Collins. It reads this way, “Arlington National Cemetery offers its heartfelt condolences to the Collins family. Their request for an exception to the burial policy at Arlington National Cemetery underwent a thorough review. While 1st Lieutenant Collins’ death was tragic and his commitment to serve in the army is extremely admirable, the Secretary of the Army made the decision to deny the request. Exceptions to the policy are rarely approved. Unfortunately, burial space at Arlington National Cemetery is extremely limited and service members with no active-duty military service other than training do not qualify.” There is a finality to that statement, the way that it reads. What next steps await, do you think?
Dawn Collins: (03:48)
This was extraordinary circumstances. To be standing on the streets or the corner of a University of Maryland College Park and to have your life taken from you. Because that was extraordinary, we’re asking for an extraordinary exception to policy.
And Mr. Collins, I’m told that the Department of Defense said that Quantico National Cemetery would be available to you if you paid all of the expenses related to that. Is that the case? And how did that make you Feel?
Rick Collins: (04:18)
It’s kind of a gut punch. You’re telling me, yeah, I’ll help you up. But at the same time, you’re going to punch me in the gut and tell me, but you’ve got to pay all the expenses of having our son’s body exhumed and transported to be able to be buried in a national cemetery.
Rick Collins: (04:37)
Because when our son raised his hand and took that oath of commissioning, as my wife stated earlier, he took that oath and pledged an allegiance to this nation to defend it against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. That’s no small thing.
Rick Collins: (04:56)
And all of those, myself included, who have served, have taken that same oath, as well as those who previously have occupied the offices at the Pentagon and in Department of Army and Defense, as well as those who are currently serving. So that’s no small thing in our estimation. That, in and of itself, deserves to be honored under these extraordinary circumstances.
Mr. Collins, your son, Richard Collins III, shared your name. What was he like? There’s so much focus on how he was ripped from this world. What was he like when he was here?
Rick Collins: (05:31)
Our son was… He was the type of person who was ambitious. He was athletic. He loved sports. He was a big lacrosse fan as well as playing soccer. And he also just enjoyed life. He loved meeting people. He loved engaging with people and finding common grounds and common interests with other people. So, I guess, I would define him as being a people person who looked for opportunities to stretch himself and extend himself.
Rick Collins: (06:05)
One of the things that he did after he expressed to us that he wanted to join ROTC in college, he went on to go to airborne school. And when he first told us he wanted to go jump out of a plane, I was like, “Are you sure you want to do that, son? I mean, that’s pretty dangerous stuff.” And he was like, “Yeah, dad, I can handle it.” So I’m like, “Okay.” And sure enough, he went through and successfully completed it and he was really proud to be able to wear the airborne emblem on his uniform.
And Mrs. Collins, what do you want folks to know about your son, your only son?
Dawn Collins: (06:42)
My only son. And again, it’s difficult for me to say this because he loved this country. When he took that oath, he was on top of the world. And one of the fondest memories I have of him saying, “Mom, I did it and don’t worry, I’m on that trajectory to succeed. And the world is my oyster at this time, I’m going to win.”
Well, I appreciate you both sharing your story with us and I wish you all the best.
Dawn Collins: (07:25)
Thank you so very much for your time.
Rick Collins: (07:27)
Thank you, Geoff.
Your heart just breaks for the Collins family.