Baltimore police announced an arrest Thursday in the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Morgan State University student Gerald Williams during an off-campus fight last month, saying tips from the school community helped lead to the arrest.
"It was absolutely information that we received from the Morgan State University community that played a vital role in our ability to file charges in this case and bring some sense of closure to the family," said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
He said police arrested a former student at the school, Harry Malik Robertson, 20, of Bowie. Davis described the dispute that led to Williams' death as a fight over a "small, inconsequential amount of money."
Williams, also of Bowie, was fatally stabbed in the groin Feb. 1 outside an apartment building in the Morgan View complex just off campus. The death, the same night as a basketball game between Morgan's men's basketball team and crosstown rival Coppin State University, shook the campus community, with students expressing fears for their safety both on and off campus.
University President David Wilson said in a letter to the Morgan community that the school would increase campus security and was working with the management company of the apartment complex to tighten security there.
The university's large alumni network rallied to support the students and called for answers in the killing. On Thursday, Wilson said he and other university officials "appreciate the diligent investigative work" of the Baltimore police and "the courage of those who came forward to assist in this investigation by supplying key information."
Davis said detectives working "long and hard" on the case had charged Robertson with first-degree and second-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to cause injury. A spokeswoman for State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said charging documents were not immediately available. Robertson's family could not be reached for comment.
Robertson was a former student at both Morgan State and Coppin State universities, according to officials at those schools. Morgan officials said Robertson was enrolled there for the 2014 fall semester and part of the 2015 spring semester before withdrawing in good standing. Coppin officials said they were unable to release information on Robertson's time there.
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said police did not have information about any connections between Robertson and Williams before their encounter at Morgan View.
Jone'e Brown, Williams' mother, said the arrest brings her family some comfort.
"I'm just glad he's off the street," she said of Robertson. "I feel a wonderful sense of relief for other children that are out there, particularly on Morgan's campus."
Brown said her son was studying global communications and was in his third year at Morgan. He would have turned 21 this summer. "He was a great student. He had just gotten the whole feel of college. He was so proud," she said.
She recalled speaking with him on the phone a week before he was killed and that he had improved his grade-point average. She said he wanted to pursue a career in journalism, and was "an excellent writer" and storyteller. He also loved to write song lyrics, was working on rap recordings with some of his college friends and was well liked, Brown said.
Brown said she never expected her son would be a victim of violence and hopes the university will continue to evaluate security at the school. "There needs to be a more secure environment, more of a police presence" on campus, especially during events, she said.
Davis said he believes that the type of community involvement seen in the Morgan State investigation will be "contagious," both because of police efforts to regain the community's trust and the success in bringing charges in Williams' death.
Robertson's arrest is indicative of a broader success police have had this year, Davis said: increasing the department's homicide closure rate.
As of Thursday, the rate for 2016 stood at about 60 percent, he said — about double what it was at the end of last year. Such rates always reflect cases from past years that have been closed in the current year, and some of the closures this year were made on 2015 cases. Still, Davis said the increase is a sign that the department's "more sophisticated, more targeted crime-fighting strategy" since the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray is working.
"We're encouraged by the relationships that we've developed and enhanced with our community," he said.