"The only person that really knows what happened is him," Rose said. "Bobby could yell when he wanted to, but we can't really say what happened because we weren't there."

Rose said she recently checked out the "Free Robert (Bob) Richardson III" Facebook page when she was at the library. The page has more than 800 supporters.

"Who are all these people?" she thought. "We don't even know who they are."

When tragedy strikes, communities often do two things — try to make sense of it, and hopefully come together, said Dr. George Everly, an expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And people try to understand the reasons behind the tragedy even if they don't have all the facts, he said.

"People make sense out of it somehow," he said. "We grasp at straws sometimes to make sense out of that which makes no sense."

'I'd take him in'

In her sunny living room in Bel Air, Anne Burch and her friends explain why they've found such compassion for a boy accused of a violent crime.

"When I found out his mother had passed away, my heart broke," Burch said, adding that she has always been interested in fighting child abuse because her mother helped start a center for abuse victims.

Along with other women she attended high school with years ago, Burch went to Richardson's preliminary hearing last month. They post supportive messages on Facebook. They say they don't approve of what he's alleged to have done, but want to show him someone cares.

"You can look at his face and see that his eyes are empty," said one of the friends, Crystal Testerman, who once volunteered at Richardson's elementary school.

"Empty," Burch said.

Another friend, Robyn Eisner, said she often saw him walking in the neighborhood. She knows a woman who took him food, she said.

They've heard only good things about Richardson. He was quiet, sweet, polite.

"If he got out today, I'd take him in," said Eisner, a school bus driver whose son played video games with Richardson.

The women hear stories that tug at their hearts — like the one where Richardson grew his hair long so he could donate it to Locks of Love. He did it because of his mom's cancer, they heard.

Richardson's grandmother and his uncle's fiancee say that story isn't true. Bear's hair was long when he was younger. When he cut it off, the long brown hair went straight into the trash, they said.

'What I believe'

Richardson's friends saw a sadness inside him. Kids teased him because he came to school dirty, in clothes that were ripped or didn't fit, they say.

"He was the kind of person who would listen about every little problem you had, no matter how stupid it was," said Hannah Siple, the 15-year-old C. Milton Wright High School student who launched the Facebook page for Richardson. She sat with family and friends at the MacGregor's fundraiser, in a corner table at the back of the restaurant.

At another table, Laurie Frey of Forest Hill dined with her mother.

Like so many others, they don't know Richardson. But Frey worked in schools once, as support staff. She saw those kids she could tell needed some help. She's driven by the Richardson house, its unkempt yard.

And like others, Frey doesn't know for sure what happened. But she thinks Richardson had decided enough was enough.

"To me, it wasn't premeditated," she said of the killing."That's what I believe."

She hopes she isn't wrong.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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