Mother of Deceased FAMU Drum Major Says Son Was Murdered, Not ‘Just Hazed’
Just days before 12 former members of FAMU’s famed Marching 100 band go on trial in connection with the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, two of them sent a message to Champion’s parents during a taping of the TV talk show “Katie.” Keon Hollis, 22, and Rikki Wills, 24, each expressed regret for not stopping the hazing rituals and asked Champion’s parents to forgive them.
“I really ask for your forgiveness for what happened,” Hollis said. “And if there’s anything I can do, anything my family can do, please let me know.” Wills assured Champion’s parents that he tried to save their son’s life. ”If there’s anything else that I could’ve possibly done, I would’ve done it,” he said. “ I loved your son like a brother.” Champion’s mother, Pamela Champion, responded simply, “I have no hate.”
“You’ve got to wonder about the mentality of those people, because they’re not kids. … Then to justify it, they put the word hazing on top of it. Now it becomes, it’s just hazing. It’s murder. It actually is murder,” Pamela Champion said. “If you take away that word hazing off of it, what is it? That’s what needs to be looked at.” When asked if he regretted not doing anything to stop the incident, Champion’s roommate Wills – was also undergoing the hazing ritual that night – said, “I want to say yes, I regret not stopping it, but I can’t say that because if the band staff couldn’t stop it, if the university couldn’t stop it, or any officials, what is one student goin’ to do?” Hollis also commented saying, “It’s hard to lose somebody. Especially when you feel like you could’ve done something to stop it.” Hollis and Wills said they believe Champion wanted to earn his band mates’ respect, but his parents have a hard time believing that is the real reason. His mother said Champion never mentioned anything about possibly subjecting himself to the Marching 100′s hazing rituals.
The university, as well as the FAMU student newspaper, recently declared that Champion was at fault in his death, because he entered the bus willingly; however since the incident has gotten national exposure, the school’s band director and the university president have been fired, and the Marching 100 has been suspended. Some reports speculated that Champion might have been targeted for a more intense beating because he openly opposed hazing — which has long existed in the band — or because he was gay and a candidate for chief drum major. Champion’s parents dismiss the idea about their son’s s****l orientation as nonsense, but did acknowledge his opposition to hazing.
Champion, 26, a drum major for FAMU’s highly respected band, was killed in a band-hazing incident. The ritual, referred to as “Crossing Bus C,” required Champion to make it from the front to the back of a coach bus while battling an onslaught of physical beatings by his band mates. Champion was pulled into seats, as he took hits from fists, belts, and an orange parking cone. He was given a “hot seat” — in which members placed a blanket over him while continuing the beating. A bass drum mallet flying though the air hit Champion, while also fracturing his roommate’s finger caught in the cross fire, according to Willis.
After about 10 minutes, when Champion made it to the back of the bus, he complained he felt dizzy and hot, and had trouble breathing. “He kept saying ‘I’m hot, I’m hot, I’m hot,’” Wills said. Champion was jumping up and down saying, “can’t hear you” as his band mates tried to make sure we was ok, the two said during the taping. Champion began to vomit, then passed out. By the time an emergency call was placed, tenor drum section leader Henry Nesbitt told dispatchers Champion’s body was cold. Less than an hour later, at 10:36 p.m., he was pronounced dead.
The coroner in Orlando, Fla., ruled Champion’s death a homicide in December 2011, the result of “hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, incurred by blunt force trauma” and “extensive contusions and swelling over the upper chest and breast area & extensive contusions of the back and left flank.”
Champion’s parents are suing FAMU, in addition to the bus owner. “Everyone should be held accountable for what you did or did not do,” Pamela Champion said.
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