Grad Student Arrested for Killing Teen

Lawyer says stabbing was an act of self-defense during fight

Krishna A. Rao

Police officers (second from left and far right) question locals Saturday outside the Pizza Ring that was the scene of the death of Michael Colono early Saturday morning.

Friends and family searched for answers yesterday, after a Saturday morning stabbing left one Cambridge teenager dead and a Harvard graduate student in jail facing murder charges.

Cambridge police arrested Alexander Pring-Wilson, 25, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday after he allegedly stabbed 18-year-old Michael Colono during an early-morning altercation outside a Cambridge pizza parlor.

Colono was pronounced dead due to multiple stab wounds at 3:15 a.m, earlier the same day.

Pring-Wilson, a graduate student at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, will be arraigned in district court this morning.

A lawyer for Pring-Wilson said that he acted in self-defense.

Details of the incident remain sketchy after two days of investigation.

According to Middlesex District Attorney spokesperson Emily LaGrassa, Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers responded at 1:50 a.m. Saturday morning to a report of a stabbing outside Pizza Ring, at the corner of Western Avenue and Howard Street. The restaurant is less than a 15-minute walk from Mather House and the southeast corner of campus.

Officers did not find a victim on the scene, LaGrassa said Saturday afternoon. Police encountered Pring-Wilson, who they questioned and released.

But according to LaGrassa, Pring-Wilson had stabbed Colono only minutes earlier.

She said the incident began when Pring-Wilson approached a car driven by the victim and two friends outside Pizza Ring.

After Colono got out of the car, he and Pring-Wilson “had some kind of physical and verbal altercation,” LaGrassa said.

Police allege Pring-Wilson stabbed Colono five times to the upper body during the fight.

According to LaGrassa, Colono and friends drove away from the scene—not realizing he had been stabbed.

After friends discovered that Colono was experiencing breathing difficulties, they tried to drive him to a hospital, but got lost. An ambulance was eventually called, and Colono was brought to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where he later died.

According to LaGrassa, Pring-Wilson’s description matched the description that friends who witnessed Colono’s stabbing gave police.

Police tracked Pring-Wilson to his Somerville apartment where, according to LaGrassa, he was arrested. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that Pring-Wilson was arrested at the police station after he went there at officers’ requests.

Jeffrey Denner, Pring-Wilson’s attorney, said his client had been assaulted and acted in “reasonable self defense.”

By Denner’s account, Pring-Wilson had gone to a Western Avenue nightclub earlier that evening and encountered Colono when he was walking home.

Denner said Pring-Wilson was attacked by Colono and another man, and pulled a pocket knife to ward off the attackers.

“Many people carry pocket knives. He’s from Colorado,” Denner said.

Police searched Pring-Wilson’s apartment Saturday afternoon, but it remains unclear whether they have recovered a weapon.

Denner said Pring-Wilson is “incredible regretful someone lost their life” and “feels badly for the family and friends” of the victim.

Neither LaGrassa nor District Attorney Martha Coakley returned phone calls yesterday, but officials said Saturday they had not determined a motive in the stabbing.

Neither Pring-Wilson nor Colono had criminal records and it was unclear whether the two knew each other or what they were arguing about, according to the District Attorney’s office.

“We don’t believe there was a prior relationship, but it’s obviously still early in the investigation,” LaGrassa said.

But both parties had been drinking.

A source close to officials on the scene of the stabbing said that Pring-Wilson was intoxicated at the time of the incident. Denner said only that his client “had some drinks” that night.

The victim’s brother, Mario Colono, said he believed that his brother also “had a few drinks” Friday night.

Officials on the scene said the fight may have left Pring-Wilson with a head injury, although the District Attorney’s office reported that Pring-Wilson had not been injured.

The Defendant

Friends and colleagues said they were “shocked” to hear of the charges against Pring-Wilson—who they said went by Xander.

Brian Wockley, a classmate and good friend of Pring-Wilson said he is “not a violent person who would just out and attack someone.”

“I can’t believe this could have happened unless he was provoked,” Wockley said. “Xander is one of the most loyal and generous and caring friends I’ve ever had. He’d do anything for someone if they were in trouble.”

A second-year master’s student in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia studies, Pring-Wilson is planning to attend law school in Colorado following graduation this year.

A Colorado native who speaks Russian and Croatian, he studied classics at Colorado College and is writing his master’s thesis on post-war reconstruction in Bosnia.

Wockley also called Pring-Wilson a “humanitarian” who “loves people.”

Denner said his client has “a great interest in the law of developing nations and is interested in some careers of public service.”

Pring-Wilson works part-time at the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS), a nonprofit Harvard center in Cambridge.

Professor of Government Carol R. Saivetz who worked with Pring-Wilson in her capacity as executive director of AAASS, described Pring-Wilson as “a really, all-around good kid” who was “anxious to go back home to do his law degree.”

“I think all the people who know him are just shocked at the circumstances,” Saivetz said.

University spokesperson John Lenger said that the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “is monitoring the situation,” but declined to comment on the status of Pring-Wilson’s pending master’s degree.

The Victim

Colono’s family too said they were struggling to make sense of Saturday morning’s tragic events.

His brother said that he knew no details of the incident.

According to his brother, Colono grew up in Cambridge where he attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

He said his brother, who most recently worked as a maintenance worker at a local Days Inn, dropped out of high school several years ago, but later obtained his GED.

Though he lived with his mother, Colono had a daughter of his own who turned three yesterday, Mario Colono said.

“He was real sweet,” Mario Colono said. “He showed a lot of care for [his mother].”

“He will be missed by me and my family greatly,” he said.

Mario Colono called his brother “a good person,” “a role model” and “easy-going.”

“That’s why I don’t understand why this couldn’t be avoided,” Mario Colono said.

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story.

—Hera A. Abbasi contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Hana R. Alberts can be reached at alberts@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at steinhar@fas.harvard.edu.