Band members at Florida A&M University are describing the brutal hazing ritual that lead to the death of Robert Champion last November. Champion, who was openly gay, was the last of three students to undergo the hazing on the band bus, one band member tells the AP.
In a law enforcement interview released Wednesday, Keon Hollis says that he was kicked, punched, hit with a large comb and struck with straps. The hazing happened last November on a bus parked in an Orlando hotel parking lot. He said there were at least 15 people on the bus and the goal was to get from the front to the back.
He said Robert Champion was the next person to be hazed that November night. He said Champion seemed fine immediately afterward, but said he was thirsty. Hollis said he gave Champion some water. Champion soon collapsed and later died.
The 26-year-old drum major suffered blunt trauma blows and died from shock caused by severe bleeding, according to the autopsy. Champion was reportedly vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.
Thirteen defendants were charged with felony hazing on May 2. Two defendants face midemeanor counts. The felony hazing charge carries a maximum penalty of almost six years.
Champion was brutally kicked, slammed with a "big orange traffic cone" and beaten with drum sticks, according to "hundreds of pages of evidence released today by prosecutors", reports the Orlando Sentinel.
According to the documents, Champion made it to the back of the bus, having completed the "crossing Bus C" hazing ritual before he fell unconscious. A witness told investigators that Champion and the two other students hazed with him were hit with "straps, hands, sticks and a big orange traffic cone."
[Band director Julian Whit] said Rikki Wills claimed he helped Champion make it through the ritual. "I'm Robert's roommate so I decided I was going to help him get through so I pushed him through…and when we got to the end, Robert said, 'Oh my God, uh, I'm having trouble breathing…." And then he passed out.
[Band members] said that Champion couldn't breathe. Champion was unresponsive, so the group called 911. [One band member] said he began doing mouth to mouth and chest compressions. Champion began vomiting while Cearnel was trying to revive him. Soon after an officer and an ambulance arrived.
Listen to one band member describe the vicious beating HERE.
Investigators have learned that more than 100 members of FAMU's famous marching band are NOT registered students. This includes at least three of the 11 band members charged almost three weeks ago with felony hazing. FAMU is Florida's only historically black public university.
Champion's parents publicly revealed in January that their son was gay. In addition to being vocally opposed to hazing, Champion's sexuality could have been among the reasons why he was viciously beaten during the attack, according to the family's attorney. Read more at my article for Ebony.com: "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell": Why Has Black Media Ignored the Sexuality of FAMU Hazing Victim Robert Champion?"
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