Robert C. Richardson III

Robert C. Richardson III. (Courtesy photo, Baltimore Sun / February 9, 2012)

The substitute teacher doesn't know Robert Richardson III. Neither does the school bus driver, or the stay-at-home mom.

It doesn't matter to them. They're driven to help the 16-year-old who is being held in the Harford County Detention Center. Police say he confessed to killing his father at their Bel Air home last month and dumping the body at the edge of a pond near his grandmother's home in Aberdeen.

In an unusual outpouring of support, women have organized fundraisers to cover Richardson's legal costs. Classmates have created a Facebook page and YouTube videos to build support. And some residents have mailed money orders so the boy can buy snacks and stamps.

Many in the tight-knit community believe that Richardson shot and killed his father because he was abused, but his own family is struggling to understand what went wrong. Supporters point to the tattered clothes, the unmaintained house on Moores Mill Road, the shouts neighbors heard. Some family members say they appreciate the concern, but others are upset by suggestions that Richardson was mistreated.

Police will not comment on a possible motive, and some relatives say physical abuse never happened. But Richardson's supporters say it's clear the teen was deeply troubled. And as the skinny teen with the family nickname "Bear" waits to be tried as an adult on charges of first- and second-degree murder, they wonder whether they should have stepped in sooner.

On a chilly night last week, a crowd gathered inside a Havre de Grace restaurant overlooking the Susquehanna River. It was the first of many fundraisers Richardson's supporters plan to help the teen. They ordered crab dip and shrimp, martinis and white wine. Part of their tabs would be donated to help pay a private attorney to represent Richardson.

Some women's eyes welled with tears when they talked about the boy. They wondered how this could happen. Did teachers miss signs of trouble? Did the police? Could the community have prevented it?

"I think everyone just feels that we should have done something," said Stephanie Giordano, manager of MacGregor's Restaurant, which hosted the fundraiser.

Years ago, Giordano says, she saw the father screaming at his son at Target. The boy was on the floor, she said.

"When [the killing] happened, I said, 'I should have done something."

Trail of blood

When police arrived at the Richardson home on the night of Jan. 9, they found the front stoop smeared with blood, according to police filings.

A trail of blood led from the bedroom to the front door, according to the police documents. The bed sheets were stained with blood. Early the next morning, investigators would find the 58-year-old father's body about 10 miles away, on the edge of a pond. Richardson often went four-wheeling near the water with his dad, an uncle said.

The pond is a good distance from his grandmother's property. You can't see it from the trailer where she lives. A wooden cross now marks a patch of grass and leaves near where the body was found, a silver crucifix stuck to its center.

The elder Richardson screamed at his son a lot, said the boy's uncle, Will Richardson, a recovering drug addict who lived for years with the father and son. Some might consider that emotional abuse, he said.

But "even when he was little, Bear had never had a hand laid on him," said Will Richardson, who helped police find the pond.

The relatives are upset with the community's accusations of abuse and neglect. They say the boy had plenty of clothes, that he never went hungry.

"You know how people are," said Will Richardson, who says he and his brother grew up in an unstable home. "They wanna talk when they don't know what they're talking about. But I for one know he never was abused."

"Bear was his world," Will Richardson's fiancee, Rita Cooper, said of the boy's father. "That's why this is so shocking to us."