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Florida A&M band suspends band camp, other clubs

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:22 PM EST, Wed February 1, 2012
Florida A&M University student and band member Robert Champion, 26, died November 19.
Florida A&M University student and band member Robert Champion, 26, died November 19.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 'Our top priority is ... health, safety," university president says
  • The action comes after the November hazing death of Robert Champion
  • Also four students were arrested in an unrelated band hazing incident
  • The college is looking into how best to address hazing problems

(CNN) -- The president of Florida A&M University said the college is canceling its summer band camp program and suspending all clubs as the school continues to deal with the fallout from the suspected hazing death of a marching band student.

"Our top priority is the health, safety and well being of students," said FAMU President James Ammons on Tuesday. "We are convening a panel of experts and outstanding thinkers to provide advice and recommendations on the operation of student organizations. Before we enter into a new student intake process, we should have the benefit of the work coming from the committees and the investigations."

The move comes weeks after four members of the university's fabled Marching 100 band were arrested on hazing-related charges.

Those charges are unrelated to the suspected hazing-related death of drum major Robert Champion in November.

FAMU police arrested three of the students January 16; the fourth turned himself in the next morning, said Sharon Saunders, the FAMU spokeswoman.

The students -- Hakeem Birch, Brandon Benson, Anthony Mingo and Denise Bailey -- are accused of hazing five Marching 100 band members who wanted to join a group in the clarinet section known as the "Clones."

A look into how to stop hazing
Debating hazing at universities
Hazing investigation and accountability
Champion death: Hazing or hate crime?

The five told police they were made to line up according to height at the start of each meeting. Then they were punched, slapped and paddled, according to the arrest warrant.

One of the students, who quit the pledging process after the first meeting, took a digital photo of the bruising on her body.

First established in 1990, the band camp has offered scholarships for aspiring musicians at high schools across the region.

Following news of its cancellation, Twitter was abuzz with comments.

"The Marching 100 will weather this storm; it is up to the current members and the alumni to make it through," wrote Kimberly D. Evans, listed as Superior92Diva.

"Proud Alumni Famu Marching '100' member will always love my band family," added Errol V Mizell Sr.

Champion's death prompted FAMU's board of trustees to approve a three-part plan to tackle the issue of hazing on campus. The plan includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.

Champion, 26, collapsed in Orlando on a bus carrying members of the band after a November football game that included a halftime performance by the group.

Christopher Chestnut, a lawyer for Champion's family, has charged that Champion died after receiving "some dramatic blows, perhaps (having an) elevated heart rate" tied to "a hazing ritual" that took place on the bus.

Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage called "crossing Bus C." One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back."

No one has been charged in Champion's death; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff's Office are investigating the case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also launched a separate investigation into band employees, who were allegedly engaged in financial fraud.

The medical examiner's office has said Champion "collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body."

Ammons said in the Tuesday statement that he suspended the summer band camp because of the ongoing investigation into Champion's death and other band-related hazing incidents.

"I totally support this effort," said Breyon Love, president of FAMU Student Government Association. "This issue of hazing has had a far-reaching impact on the university and I believe that we need to pause for a moment to make sure that all of our students are ready to seriously move in a direction which will result in a complete culture change."

CNN's Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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