(Baltimore Sun/Justin Fenton )
During what was supposed to be a festive homecoming week, the campus of Bowie State University was instead quiet and somber Friday after a student was arrested and charged with killing one of her roommates.
According to police, Alexis D. Simpson, 19, fatally stabbed 18-year-old Dominique T. Frazier on Thursday night in the dorm where they both lived. Charging documents show that the confrontation was sparked by a seemingly innocuous act: Simpson turned off Frazier's iPod as they prepared to go out, records show.
Campus police found Frazier in the second-floor hallway of the Christa McAuliffe Residential Building, where she was unconscious and bleeding from the torso. She was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center where she later died, according to Maryland State Police.
Simpson turned herself in at a Prince George's County police station around midnight. She has been charged with first-degree murder and related charges, and was being held at the Prince George's County Detention Center without bond.
On Friday, the university canceled classes and held a noontime service in the school's gymnasium that was attended by hundreds. University President Mickey L. Burnim told students, "Our community and our family has permanently changed."
Word of the killing stunned students, many of whom are away from home for the first time and share living space with strangers.
Students who knew Frazier said she and Simpson did not know each other before becoming roommates, and said Frazier may have sought a transfer to another room. A school spokeswoman said she was unable to confirm or deny those reports.
"It's an eye opener. If you have a dispute, it's not worth fighting over," said Damial Fletcher, a 19-year-old from Frederick who was friends with the victim. "Dominique lost her life over something trivial. We come to college to mature ourselves, but sometimes still act like children."
News like this may worry parents of children in college nationwide, said one expert whose work focuses on behavioral and emotional disorders of young people.
"This is going to make news across the country. A lot of parents are going to say, 'I just sent my baby off to college – what can we find out about the roommate?'" said Peter E. Leone, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He called the stabbing "so unusual, so atypical."
Frazier and her roommates were preparing to go to a campus comedy show, part of the week's homecoming festivities. Charging documents show that Simpson turned off Frazier's iPod, and Simpson called for her roommates to turn it back on. Frazier and Simpson began arguing, and another roommate tried to separate them and pushed Simpson into her bedroom and shut the door, according to police records. But moments later, she emerged holding what appeared to be a knife, and swung it at Frazier.
Simpson allegedly said next, "I didn't mean to do it, you all don't know what I've been through. You all jumped me"
Frazier was outgoing and well-known around campus, said Stephanie Shipley, 19, of Upper Marlboro. Shipley said Frazier "liked to talk, was at every event."
"If you were having the worst day of your life, she'd make you just laugh," added Fletcher.
Word of the killing spread quickly Thursday night on social media. By the time police had confirmed a student's death, Frazier and Simpson's Twitter names were swirling among students. Before Simpson had even turned herself in, people were talking about the senselessness of a fight over an iPod.
After the service, an impromptu prayer circle formed in the middle of the campus mall. One woman collapsed to her knees as the students prayed together. Others gathered in smaller clusters, greeting each other with embraces. Many of those milling about wore T-shirts that read, "I love my HBCU."
Bowie State University, founded in 1865, is the oldest historically black college or university in Maryland. It has 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students, about 1,400 of whom live on campus.
"It hits home — it could have been anybody," Morgyn Ogburn, 19, of Greenbelt. "Not everybody talks on this campus, but when something happens, you feel for the school, their friends, their parents. It's a very somber moment."
Other state campuses have had to confront fatal violence among students. In April 2010, a Frostburg State University student was fatally shot by a fellow student who claimed self-defense and was later sentenced to five years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
In 2003, a University of Maryland, College Park student was shot in the head in a parking garage by her former boyfriend, who then killed himself. She survived her injuries.
Two years later, a student, apparently angry about having been taunted by party-goers, set fire to a fraternity satellite house, killing another student whom he did not know. The student was sentenced to 37 years in prison.