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Autopsy rules hazing trauma killed FAMU drum major

By Jeff Weiner

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion died as a result of blunt-force trauma suffered in a hazing attack, according to the results of an autopsy ruling the death a homicide.

On Friday, the Orange-Osceola medical examiner’s office said an autopsy “revealed extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder, and back with extensive hemorrhage.”

Though there were no broken bones or damage to 26-year-old Champion’s internal organs, the autopsy found evidence of “a significant rapid blood loss” due to the injuries he suffered.

In a statement, the medical examiner called the death “the result of hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, incurred by blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident.”

After the results were revealed Friday, sheriff’s investigators said they will meet with the state attorney’s office soon to determine what, if any, criminal charges will be filed.

Champion collapsed on a bus Nov. 19 after the annual Florida Classic football game between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University.

Authorities have said Champion died after an apparent hazing ritual aboard the parked band bus. Investigators say they have interviewed more than 30 witnesses in the case.

Champion’s mother, Pamela, reached at her Georgia home late Friday, said she’s “still trying to come to terms and absorb” the information contained in the report.

The drum major’s death has sparked a national outcry over hazing, launched multiple investigations and has prompted FAMU to place longtime band director Julian White on administrative leave.

The FAMU board of trustees will hold a telephone meeting Monday to discuss President James Ammons’ status, after Gov. Rick Scott recommended his suspension. Scott met with Ammons at the Capitol late Friday.

“Gov. Scott’s looking out for the best interest of the university, and still strongly feels that Dr. Ammons should step aside until the investigations are completed,” Scott’s deputy press secretary, Jackie Schutz, wrote in an email to the Orlando Sentinel. “The medical examiner’s findings speak for itself.”

Meanwhile, a joint statement issued by Dr. Solomon L. Badger III, chair of the FAMU board, and Ammons, called the autopsy information “extremely upsetting for all of us, even though it confirmed what we suspected.”

“We again convey our deepest condolences to the Champion family.

We will continue to cooperate with all agencies looking into the matter and are committed to creating a safe environment for the entire FAMU community and ensuring that this never happens again at FAMU.”

Orange-Osceola medical-examiner officials said the autopsy found no evidence of a natural cause for Champion’s death, including disease, sickle-cell trait, drugs or alcohol.

“Immediately after the hazing incident, he complained of thirst and fatigue; minutes later, he noted loss of vision” and soon suffered cardiac arrest, the medical examiner said.

Christopher Chestnut, the Gainesville, Fla., lawyer representing Champion’s family, said, “It confirms our suspicions.”

The family is distraught, he said, and wants to put an end to hazing. The Champions have already filed notice of intent to sue the school, although they do not know who was involved, what was done or where.

Late Friday, Champion’s family issued a statement through a spokesman, thanking “all of those who have reached out during this very difficult time.”

“Our goal is that no other family will have to live through this pain. We don’t want to stop the music, we want to stop the hazing.”
(Staff writers Bianca Prieto, Leslie Postal and Rene Stutzman contributed to this report.)

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