At Baltimore City College, Antoine D. Boykins took honors classes and went to the state championships as a star wrestler. Confident and well-spoken, he gave enough pep talks and told enough jokes to win friends inside and outside the college-prep high school.
"He was one of the nicest kids around here," said a man standing near his family's West Baltimore rowhouse yesterday.
Now, however, Boykins, 21, is sitting in the brig at Camp Lejeune, N.C., awaiting a likely court martial that could mire him in a military prison for life.
Boykins and another Marine lance corporal, Julian C. Ramirez, 25, of Los Angeles, were detained Tuesday evening on suspicion of intentionally disabling their fellow Marines' parachutes before a training jump.
The sabotage came to light Sept. 21, when three air delivery specialists in the 2nd Transportation Support Battalion leapt out of a cargo plane to discover that their chutes' suspension cords had been severed.
Had they not been able to activate smaller, reserve parachutes, the jump from 1,250 feet would have probably proved fatal. Military investigators later discovered a total of 13 parachutes with cords cut in a way that would escape notice during the pre-jump inspection.
No charges have been filed against Boykins or Ramirez, but a lawyer familiar with judicial proceedings at the base said he expected charges to be brought by early next week. Officials at Camp Lejeune and at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service would not discuss evidence or motives yesterday.
Word of Boykins' arrest knocked the air out of people who knew him in Baltimore.
"I can't imagine him trying to hurt somebody like that," said Bryant Craig, a former wrestling teammate who recalls Boykins as a peacemaker. "If we got into arguments with the other team or got ready to fight a little bit, he would try to calm things down. Or he'd try to make a joke to make somebody laugh."
To the 47,000 Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune, the arrests Tuesday were a rebuke to the Marine Corps ethos of loyalty. "I don't understand why Marines would do that to Marines, because we're so very much a family," said 2nd Lt. Kate VandenBossche, the base's media officer.
John A. Bukauskas, a retired military judge at Camp Lejeune, said yesterday that the suspects could face charges as serious as attempted murder, a crime with a penalty of life in prison.
A lawyer for Ramirez said his client denies the allegations. A woman who came to the door at the Boykins family's house in Baltimore declined to comment.
According to friends from City College, Boykins broke step with his high-achieving peers at the liberal arts high school in only one way: He didn't go to college.
Two classmates recall that he was accepted to several colleges. But a commercial database shows that Boykins enlisted in the Marines in July 2000, a few weeks after receiving his high school diploma.
His reason for choosing a low-ranking position in the Marines over what likely would have been a promising college career remained murky yesterday. One classmate said he believed that Boykins was unable to afford tuition at the colleges that had accepted him.
Sun staff writer Kimball Payne contributed to this article.