Recently married and awarded a medical school scholarship, David M. Atlas Jr. was looking forward to the trip home to Southern Maryland for Christmas with his family.
Instead, the 23-year-old Mr. Atlas will be buried there on Christmas Eve. He was shot to death early Tuesday outside a Philadelphia restaurant after a holiday farewell pizza party with friends from the nearby Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
"We're all in a state of shock," his mother, Katherine E. Atlas, said last night from her home in the St. Mary's County community of California. "I can't put it in words."
Mr. Atlas was a 1988 graduate of Leonardtown High School, where he had been a star athlete in football and track. He also won a bronze medal in track at the 1988 Junior Olympics in Kansas City, and continued his running while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Salisbury State University.
At Salisbury, he met and began a five-year romance with a fellow student, the former Mary Helene Rose from Sharptown.
While Mr. Atlas began his studies at the medical school, his fiancee pursued a master's degree in Baltimore at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
She graduated in May, and the couple were married July 10 in Salisbury.
Mary Atlas was at their home in Philadelphia with the couple's Doberman, Rex, when all their dreams came undone in an act of seemingly random violence.
According to an account given to the family, Mr. Atlas was getting into a friend's car on a restaurant parking lot about 2 a.m. -- about to open the passenger door that the friend had reached over to unlock -- when he was grabbed from behind and a scuffle ensued.
The friend got out of the car to help, but in the seconds it took for him to run around the vehicle, there was a gunshot -- "just a flash that he saw," the mother said. "We don't know what the motive was."
At the Philadelphia college, classes were canceled yesterday for Mr. Atlas' approximately 215 fellow second-year students. A spokeswoman said he was the first student to be murdered in the school's 103-year history.
Mr. Atlas, enrolled in a five-year program to obtain both his medical degree at the college and a master's degree in public health from Temple University, recently was awarded a full scholarship from the U.S. Health Service Corps in exchange for his pledge to take up practice in an under-served area.
And that, according to college spokeswoman Cindy Schlaybach, was exactly what Mr. Atlas had dreamed of -- going home to rural Southern Maryland as a family physician.
"He wanted to be a hometown doctor. It's a tragic loss for his family, for the community, and for society," she said.
A Mass of Christian burial was to be offered at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church in Leonardtown. Burial will be at Queen of Peace Cemetery in the nearby town of Helen.
Mr. Atlas is survived by his wife and his parents, Katherine Elizabeth and David Marlow Atlas Sr. of California; and three younger siblings at home, brothers Dennis Matthew Atlas, 20, and Darrin Michael Atlas, 15, and sister Dana Michelle Atlas, 17; his paternal grandparents, Harry and Mary Jo Atlas of St. Marys City; and his maternal grandmother, Mary Catherine Bell of Leonardtown.
Memorial donations may be made to the David M. Atlas Jr. Memorial Fund, either at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine or in care of the First National Bank of St. Marys, Leonardtown, Md. 20650.