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FAMU student's funeral turns into call for action against hazing

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DECATUR, Ga. — In a poignant call to action, speakers at the funeral for a Florida A&M University drum major urged for an end to the hazing linked to the death of Robert Champion.

A horse drawn carriage carrying the casket of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion is led by his bandmates after his funeral service in Decatur, Ga.  David Goldman/Associated Press
David Goldman/Associated Press
A horse drawn carriage carrying the casket of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion is led by his bandmates after his funeral service in Decatur, Ga.

Eight former band mates saluted Champion by walking toward his open casket. They raised their batons in unison, then abruptly turned to show their capes embroidered with the letters: C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N. Near the end of the funeral, one of the college junior’s favorite songs, Flight of the Bumblebee, played over the loudspeaker.

Pastor John Tatum told hundreds of friends and family who crowded the church that it was time to end the “foolish” hazing in fraternities and marching bands.

“If there’s anything about this man’s legacy we need to put a stop to, it’s hazing,” he said to a chorus of amens. “I call upon every parent, every mother, every father … do what is necessary now to stop this tragedy from ever happening again. Right now.”

The 26-year-old Champion was found dead Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after the school’s football team lost to a rival.

Police said Champion, a clarinet player, had been vomiting and complained he couldn’t breathe shortly before he collapsed, but they have not released any other details.

Since Champion’s death, Julian White, the university’s band director, has been fired. The school has announced an independent probe, and the university president said he will work to end the long practice of hazing in the marching band.

White said he saw Champ­ion shortly after he was found unconscious and assured the family that he “looked in peace.”

“This is a difficult time for me. You may see me smile, and you probably won’t see me cry,” he said. “I’m happy that I knew Robert.”

James Ammons, the school president, pledged to “stamp out hazing at FAMU.”

“I vow that Robert’s death will not be in vain,” he said.

The group that oversees Florida’s public universities announced Tuesday it wanted to investigate whether the school did enough to respond to hazing.

The funeral resonated with the music Champion was so passionate about.

The Southwest DeKalb High School marching band, where Champion attended, played somber melodies and were joined by an 18-member church choir behind his casket, where he lie wearing his college uniform, clutching a gleaming baton.

At the start of the service, Champion’s mother, Pam, squeezed her son’s hand a final time. His father, Robert Sr., whispered into his son’s ear.

The family’s attorney has said they intend to sue the school over the death.

Champion fell in love with music when he was about age 6. He started in bands in middle school and his mother said he was so enthusiastic about performances she called him “Mr. Band.”

He long dreamed of joining a marching band, and neighbors recalled seeing him patrolling his yard with a makeshift baton made of tape. He rose to become the leader of his high school band by his junior year, and was tapped as the drum major of Florida A&M’s prestigious “Marching 100” in late 2010. The band has performed at Super Bowls, the Grammys and presidential inaugurations.

James Seda, who leads the high school band, said Champion was an enthusiastic leader and outgoing musician with an amazing work ethic. He said he was thankful he was in Orlando to see Champion’s final show at halftime against Bethune-Cookman.

“His last performance is always his best performance,” he said. “He always outdoes himself.”

ANOTHER CASE INVESTIGATED

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Authorities are investigating another possible case of hazing connected to Florida A&M University band.

The Tallahassee Police Department has opened an investigation into the alleged battery of 18-year-old Bria Shante Hunter.

Hunter’s parents told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV on Tuesday that the freshman clarinet player suffered a fractured thigh bone and damaged knee. They say when she returned to Georgia she couldn’t bend her legs.

Officer David Northway confirmed they are investigating whether the injuries came from hazing.

A police report states the alleged battery started Sept. 15 and continued through Nov. 7, shortly before drum major Robert Champion collapsed outside an Orlando hotel and died. Investigators have linked his death to hazing.

Hunter’s father told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was at Champion’s funeral and could not immediately comment.

– Associated Press

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/01/11 - 09:59 am
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Yeah, and last night on

Yeah, and last night on Harry's Law (a new TV series on NBC), the attorney called for an end to all organized football (rec. league, school, college and pro). I wish the media would put an end to all stories about someone's calling for an end to something.

TK3
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TK3 12/01/11 - 08:25 pm
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Yes Little Lamb but just

Yes Little Lamb but just remember the old socialist excuse for another power grab... "why if only one life can be saved."

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