FAMU band member's death ruled homicide


Robert Champion, family photo

ORANGE CO., Fla.,None - A medical examiner has determined that the death of a Florida A&M band member in Orlando was a homicide.

According to the medical examiner's report, Robert Champion, 26, died as a result of "blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident."

Champion, who attended Southwest DeKalb High School, was on a trip with the FAMU band when he died on a bus on Nov. 19, hours after performing at the Florida Classic at Orlando's Citrus Bowl.

A Gwinnett County man who played in the Florida A&M marching band told Channel 2's Tom Regan hazing has been rampant in the program for years.

"You have the blindfold on so you can't see who is hitting you or what's going on, that type of thing," Kofi Hemmingway told Regan, describing the hazing ritual he went through at FAMU.

Hemmingway said he took multiple beatings pledging to be a member of an intra-band fraternity as freshman in the late 1980s.

"I was beaten, hit in the face with phone books, punched in the face and slapped," Hemmingway said. "I was beaten with boat oars, you know? None of that had to happen. I made the dumb decision to go through with it."

Hemmingway estimates when he was at FAMU half of the freshmen in the marching band subjected themselves to hazing or imposed punishment despite the risk of getting kicked out of school.

He said he regrets being a participant in minor hazing of other band members.

"This unfortunately is about choice and the power of choice. You have to say no to stupidity and foolishness," Hemmingway said.

Hemmingway said the culture of hazing at FAMU has existed for years. But he believes the death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion will be a wakeup call to student.

'I'm deeply saddened by everything that's happened. It's absolutely, positively awful. But we are doing everything in our power to make sure this doesn't happen again at Florida A&M University."

No charges have been filed in Champion's death, but the Orange County Sheriff's Office, along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is investigating.

In Florida, any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony.

In the wake of Champion's death, DeKalb County has suspended all band activities at its public high schools.


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