When Morgan State University student Richard Asare didn't return to his parents' home one night this week, his mother assumed her son had finally secured on-campus housing so he wouldn't have to commute by bus and train from Glen Burnie.
The 24-year-old former college dropout's rededication to his studies -- after running afoul of the law in recent years -- represented a chance for Asare to fulfill the American dream for which his parents moved from Ghana to Maryland 16 years ago.
But just weeks into his second college year, the soft-spoken and enthusiastic student was killed in broad daylight on a busy Northwood street just blocks from the Northeast Baltimore campus. It was an unusually brazen attack in a middle-class neighborhood that has rattled the college and left Asare's devastated family questioning their decision to immigrate to the United States.
"He was so happy to go back to college," his mother, Comfort Asare, said yesterday while surrounded by about a dozen friends and family members in her tidy suburban home. "He was very bright, intelligent and so proud" of being in college, she said. "He loved Morgan."
Police said that between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Monday someone walked up and shot Asare near East Cold Spring Lane and Northwood Drive. He was discovered shortly before 11 a.m. by firefighters in a passing engine who called for an ambulance, and was pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 11:20 a.m.
Morgan State spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said campus authorities have been told that police are investigating whether Asare "was targeted for some reason." "It was not apparent that it was a robbery," Coleman said. "He still had his cell phone, he still had his wallet."
Police spokesman Sterling Clifford said the motive in the killing remained unclear yesterday.
Asare's younger brother, Michael, said Richard had never indicated feeling unsafe in the city or at Morgan. "He was trying to switch his life around from getting in trouble and all that," Michael Asare said. "He got tired of it."
In May 2006, Richard Asare was arrested in Northwest Baltimore after police found an illegal handgun in the van he was driving. He was found guilty of a handgun violation and sentenced to 42 days in prison, according to court records. In May, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement to police in Anne Arundel County, records show, and was given a four-day jail term. He had been convicted twice of minor drug charges and was sentenced once to probation and the other time to six days in jail.
In recent years, after dropping out of Morgan, he had been charged with several other crimes but not convicted. Asare first enrolled at Morgan for the 2002-2003 academic year, school officials said.
Coleman said Asare's troubled background should not minimize the tragedy of his death.
"We always believe that students who enroll in college are trying to improve their lives," he said. "I believe that is what he was doing. ... To say that this young man was any different, I believe, would be a disservice to him and to his memory."
The shooting prompted Morgan's new emergency text-message system, which alerted students' cell phones about 1 p.m. Monday about the nearby fatal shooting.
News of the incident sent a ripple of fear through the urban campus, said sophomore Arion Long. "Some people don't want to cross the street to go to the shopping mall," she said. "This is Baltimore City, but we should have a sense of well-being on campus, at least."
Asare's killing came toward the end of a three-day spate of violence in which eight people were killed throughout the city.
"I hope they hype up the security up there," said Simone Glover, in Queens, New York, whose son is a Morgan freshman. "It's scary to think that these kids are out here and in trouble and killed for whatever reason."
Coleman said Morgan is not "any less safe than any other college or university in any metropolitan area of this state. And that includes colleges that might be located in College Park," he added, in a reference to recent sexual assaults at the University of Maryland campus there.
Though he was in class only for several weeks, Asare had made a distinct impression on one of his professors this year.
"He was very polite, and I was extremely struck by that," said English professor Anita Pandey, who taught Asare in her business communications course. "And very enthusiastic. ... We were talking at some point about globalization, and I remember that he contributed some good examples about the need to be cross-culturally aware."
The eldest of four children, Asare was born in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. When he was 8, Comfort Asare and her husband, Isaac Asare, moved the family to Maryland.
After graduating from High Point High School in Beltsville, Asare attended Morgan for a year, and then helped his parents in their grocery in Columbia, Comfort Asare said.
"He cut my meat for me," she said. "He worked very hard over there." Comfort Asare said she hoped that her eldest son would take over the family business.
Michael said he and Richard were planning to start a clothing business after they both finished college. Whatever direction he chose, Michael said, his brother's aspirations were similar to his immigrant parents': "Having his own business and living a stable life."
Clifford said police detectives believe that there may have been people who witnessed the killing, and he urged them to provide information. "This is a busy intersection," Clifford said. "Someone saw a murder or has information that can be useful in catching a murderer."