Death of Florida A&M drum major ruled a homicide

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The state medical examiner has ruled that the death of a Florida A&M University drum major last month was a homicide after concluding that the student was severely beaten in a hazing incident and died within an hour.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Friday evening saying it planned to work with the State Attorney’s office “to identify the charges that are applicable” in the death of 26-year-old Robert Champion.

The medical examiner found that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.

“The Champion family’s worst fears were realized tonight when their son Robert’s death was ruled a homicide by hazing,” the victim’s family said in a statement Friday evening. “We now hope that all those responsible for this act will swiftly be brought to justice. Our goal is that no other family will have to live through this pain.”

“We don’t want to stop the music,” the statement said, “we want to stop the hazing.”

Champion’s Nov. 19 death and the severe beating of another band member during a hazing ritual three weeks earlier have brought new scrutiny to a culture of hazing within the Tallahassee school’s famed Marching 100 band.

State and local authorities are investigating the death. Any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony in Florida, but no charges have been filed so far. Three male band members were arrested in a separate probe involving the recent beating of a female member whose thigh bone was broken.

Witnesses told emergency dispatchers that Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard a band bus outside an Orlando hotel after the school’s football team lost to rival Bethune-Cookman.

The report by Dr. Sara Irrgang described Champion as “previously healthy” and showing “no evidence of natural disease” except for a slightly enlarged heart. Immediately after the hazing, Champion complained of thirst and fatigue, then loss of vision and signs of shock, the report said.

The toxicology report was negative for drugs and alcohol and there was no injury to the internal organs.

Champion’s father, Robert Champion Sr., said he knew his son had been hazed.

“We just need to figure out what we need to do now to get the hazing under control,” Champion told The Associated Press from his home in suburban Atlanta.

The family’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said “justice needs to be swift and immediate.”

“We’re not calling for dismantling of the band,” he said. “There needs to be high-level scrutiny. The students are adults, but they’re young adults.”

In its statement, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said that it had interviewed “the vast majority of individuals present in the incident.”

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