Sitting on a bench toward the rear of a Harford County courtroom Tuesday was a row of well-dressed women determined to send Robert C. Richardson III a message: They've got his back.
The four Bel Air women say they're part of a network of support building for the teen, who police say confessed to the Jan. 9 killing of his father. Tuesday, the 16-year-old, represented by a public defender, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and was immediately swept back into custody.
The women say they want to pay for a private lawyer to represent Richardson on the first- and second-degree murder charges he faces. They also are raising cash for Richardson, known to his friends as Bob, to have money for snacks at the Harford County Detention Center.
Crystal Testerman of Bel Air said she knew Richardson as a little boy who came to elementary school with sandy-brown hair down to his waist and tattered clothes. Testerman volunteered at Bel Air Elementary School, where, she said, Richardson attended with her daughter, Lia, now 15.
"You could just tell; he was a kid who needed a hug," Testerman said. "It just seemed like he slipped through the cracks for years and years and years. … I would want somebody to be there for my kids, so I am going to do this for this kid."
Testerman and the three other women came together through a "Free Robert (Bob) Richardson III" Facebook page that Richardson's friend Hannah Siple said she created last Thursday. Since then, more than 300 people have "liked" the page and dozens more have weighed in on the case that rocked the quiet suburban community.
The hearing lasted less than three minutes. As he was escorted into the courtroom, Richardson nodded at a handful of relatives and friends but said little during the hearing. He appeared with his hands and feet shackled, and was dressed in a black-and-white-striped uniform with "inmate" stamped across the back.
He now awaits action from the state grand jury, a process that could take two weeks or longer.
A spokeswoman for the Harford County sheriff's office said officials had no information to release on a possible motive. An autopsy report could take several weeks or months to produce, she said.
After the hearing, Richardson's half-sister, Abigail Richardson, 20, declined to comment on the case.
According to court documents, he called her Jan. 9 to say he had shot their 58-year-old father, Robert C. Richardson Jr., and was looking for a place to dump the body. He left his father's body in an Aberdeen pond before leading police on a car chase, court papers say.
Abigail Richardson previously told The Sun, "My brother is a good child — a good, good child. Everybody has their snapping point, the point where they just ... everybody has one."
Richardson's mother died about six years ago after being diagnosed with cancer.
Neighbors have reported hearing angry shouts from the Richardson's home in the 800 block of Moores Mill Road, but the Harford County sheriff's office had no record of abuse or domestic violence in its system.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said she could not comment on whether the district has a record of any intervention on Richardson's behalf. Kranefeld did say that county schools follow "very strict" reporting standards on suspected cases of abuse and neglect.
Robyn Eisner, one of the women who came to the hearing to support Richardson, said she has seen law enforcement outside his home, which she said she drives by regularly. Eisner said her 14-year-old son, Josh, used to pal around with Richardson when the boys were younger.
Eisner said she and others are searching for a private lawyer who will represent Richardson for free, although she said community members want to pool resources so they can pay attorney fees.
Siple, Richardson's friend at C. Milton Wright High School, said she created the Facebook page to help get the truth out about Richardson's case.
Siple said she talked to him nearly every day when school was in session. "He was always the kind of person you could go to, to tell your problems."
Siple said Richardson never talked to her about his home life, but she said some teens would tease him about his appearance, including clothes that did not fit him properly.
"I really just wanted people to try and support him as much as we can," she said.