Officials believe hazing involved in FAMU student death

A 26-year-old drum major for the Florida A&M University Marching 100 band had performed in the Florida Classic halftime show just hours earlier. The band returned to their hotel in Orlando after the football game. That’s where Champion vomited in the parking lot and complained of not being able to breathe.
A vigil was held Tuesday, Nov. 22 on FAMU’s campus to remember Champion’s legacy. His long history with the Marching 100 was remarkable, according to attendees. Tears were shed as the crowd remembered and honored the life of one of their own.
Initial reports from Robert Champion’s death in Orlando said no foul play was suspected. But, according to a document obtained from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, a death investigation “indicates ‘hazing’ was involved in the events that occurred” prior to the death of Champion.
Earlier in the day of Nov. 22, FAMU President James Ammons suspended all performances of the bands—all bands on campus—once he heard there may have been hazing involved.
He said he and his administration are working hard to ensure all the proper steps are taken to eradicate that kind of behavior at FAMU.
“I think we need to stop and give ourselves the opportunity to find out the facts,” Ammons said. “And until we do I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have the band performing and representing the university.”
Ammons said FAMU is putting together an “independent, special task force” to examine activities and behavioral patterns of the Marching 100.
“My intent is to get to the bottom of this,” said Ammons. “To ensure we have all of the policies and procedures in place to, once and for all, stamp out at Florida A&M this egregious practice of hazing.”
The preliminary autopsy report offered no conclusive cause of death. In Florida, any death that occurs as a result of hazing is a third degree felony.
FAMU’s president, James Ammons, said this loss affected the whole Rattler community.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” said Ammons. “Our hearts and our prayers go out to Mr. Champion’s family. This is a major loss for our student body, the Marching 100 and the university.”
The Marching 100 has a long history of hazing. FAMU’s Chief of Police, Calvin Ross, said there are several currently open investigations of hazing regarding the Marching 100.
“In fact last week, we made contact to advise the band of the consequences of hazing,” said Ross. “We do have cases that have been reported to the FAMU police department of alleged hazing that we are looking into.”
Orange County now has an open criminal investigation in Champion’s death.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said on Tuesday, Nov. 22, that additional tests were required after the preliminary autopsy.
“At 9:46 PM, the Sheriff’s Office received an emergency call for service involving a man down,” said Demings. “It was later determined that FAMU Drum Major Robert Champion had collapsed on a band transport bus. Prior to being transported, Mr. Champion was administered CPR by another band member. He was transported to Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando and was later pronounced deceased by hospital staff at 10:36 PM.”
Students, like former band member Jason Lawrence, remember Champion as genuine and willing to work.
“He was just a really, really great guy,” said Lawrence. “You’re not going to find anyone who has anything negative to say about Robert.”
Champion’s father—also named Robert—said his son had no known medical conditions that could have caused his death.
“I think he was in pretty good condition,” said Champion. “He ate and he trained, and had no medical condition that I know of. I do want to know what happened because that would give me more understanding… so I can accept knowing what happened.”
Students filed into Lee Hall’s auditorium silently and somberly before the memorial service. A choir sang hymns, the SGA chief of staff spoke, President Ammons spoke and even Julian White, Ph.D., the director of the band spoke.
“Robert seemed to measure up to all those characteristics [I look for], so I followed him until I had him come to Florida A&M as a student,” said White. “I was fortunate. I look for the best. It’s like a coach tries to get the best quarterback in the state or whatever, I try to get the best of whatever from the state or the nation. I’m always honored to land a prize such as that.”

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