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Florida A&M band suspended after suspected hazing death

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 9:47 AM EST, Wed November 23, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The band took part in President Obama's inauguration parade
  • Investigation finds "hazing was involved," sheriff says
  • A 26-year-old drum major became ill and died after a game
  • At least 30 band members were let go this semester because of hazing, he said

(CNN) -- A Florida university has stopped all band performances amid an investigation into the death of a student over the weekend that authorities say is linked to hazing.

Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major with Florida A&M University's marching band, became ill and died Saturday night after a game, the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff's Office said.

Investigators have found that hazing was involved in the incident, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Tuesday.

The cause of death is inconclusive, however, and the medical examiner says more tests are required, Demings added.

Florida A&M bands suspended indefinitely
The truth about hazing

"Any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third degree felony," he said. "Anyone who participates in such events can be criminally charged."

FAMU President James Ammons announced Tuesday he is immediately suspending "any and all performances and engagements for bands and other ensembles under the auspices of the Music Department, including the Marching 100."

The suspension will stay in place during the investigations of Champion's death, Ammons said, and it will not be lifted until he authorizes it.

Ammons vowed to convene a task force "to determine if there are any unauthorized and questionable activities associated with the culture of the Marching 100."

"The purpose of this review is not to establish culpability of individual band members in this particular case, but rather to determine whether there are patterns of behavior by the band -- or members of it -- that should be addressed at the institutional level.," he said.

At a news conference, Ammons was asked whether there were previous instances of possible hazing in the band this semester. "There were allegations that were turned over to the authorities and those investigations are ongoing at this time," he responded.

Asked whether it is accurate that at least 30 band members were let go this semester because of possible involvement in hazing, he said, "That is true."

CNN's calls to the university for further information were not immediately returned.

In his statement, Ammons warned students: "There will be no retaliation against anyone who cooperates with the investigation, but there will be serious consequences for anyone who tries to impede it."

The school's anti-hazing policy states that any students or groups found to be responsible for hazing can face penalties ranging from fines to expulsion.

After a game Saturday, the band returned to its hotel, where "the victim reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe," the sheriff's office said in a release. "Friends of the victim called 911 and administered CPR. The victim was transported to Doctor Phillips Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased."

"The investigation indicates that hazing was involved in the events that occurred prior to the 911 call for assistance," Demings said Tuesday.

Band director Dr. Julian White met with band members early Sunday to inform them of the death, the school said. Grief counseling was made available.

A music major from Atlanta, Champion was one of six drum majors for the 375-member Marching 100 band, the school said.

A memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday evening.

"We are in shock," White said in a written statement. "He was a very fine drum major who was of excellent character and very trustworthy. I had not told him yet, but he was slated to be the head drum major next year."

FAMU takes pride in the Marching 100. The band has been credited for "not less than 30 innovative techniques which have become standard operating procedures for many high school and collegiate marching band programs throughout the nation," according to its official website. The band dates back to 1892.

The Marching 100's motto lays out "qualities to live by," including "highest quality of character" and "dedication to service."

In 2009, the band represented Florida in the parade for President Barack Obama's inauguration.

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