Florida A&M Death: Band Director Fired as Hazing Investigated

PHOTO: Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M Universitys Marching 100 band, performs during halftime of a football game in Orlando, Fla.PlayJoseph Brown III/The Tampa Tribune/AP Photo
WATCH Marching Band Hazing Investigated

The embattled director of bands at Florida A&M University has been fired after a drummer in the school's Marching 100 died after a suspected hazing incident.

Four days after 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion was found dead on the band's bus after performing at a halftime show at a football game, university President James H. Ammons has announced the dismissal of Julian White, the longtime director of the school's famed marching band.

Champion was found unresponsive on the band's bus in Orlando, Fla., Saturday night, and later declared dead at Dr. Phillips Hospital. Initial results from the medical examiner were inconclusive, and the university is awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Police and former band members said that Champion was likely forced to walk through a gauntlet of fists on the chartered bus after the team's game in Orlando. Champion was reportedly vomiting and said he couldn't breathe before he collapsed and died.

White was sent a termination letter on Wednesday by Ammons in which he cited the longtime faculty member's inability to stop the well-documented hazing in the university's band and music department, according to The Associated Press.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Ammons explained the firing of White, who joined the university's faculty in 1972 and has been the director of the Marching 100 since 1998.

"While Dr. White has had a distinguished career in music education and administration within the university as director of bands, I did not feel there was competence involving reporting allegations of hazing within the department of music and the Marching 100," Ammons said, according to USA Today.

READ TRANSCRIPT: FAMU President James Ammons Speaks With ABC News' Matt Gutman

White said that he was given the choice to resign or be fired. His termination is effective Dec. 22, and until then he will be on paid administrative leave. He is barred from returning to campus.

Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel, Ammons made it clear that the university will not tolerate hazing of its students.

"We are serious: This has to stop," Ammons told the Sentinel. "The highest priority we have as a university is protecting the health, safety and well-being of our students."

A spokeswoman for the Orange County, Fla., sheriff's office told ABC News that investigators were conducting interviews with members of the school band, football team and others who were at the Florida Classic football game that night.

Sheriff Jerry Demings said Tuesday that the investigation "indicates that hazing was involved in the events that occurred prior to the 911 call for assistance."

"Anyone who participates in such events can be criminally charged," he said, adding that hazing is a third degree felony in Florida.

The band's performances have been suspended by Ammons, and the university is creating a task force to look into reports of "unauthorized and questionable" activities within the 375-member marching band.

Champion was one of six drum majors for the band, which had been selected to march during President Obama's inauguration.

"We are in shock," White said earlier this week in reaction to the news of Champion's death. "He was a very fine drum major who was of excellent character and very trustworthy. I had not told him yet, but he was slated to be the head drum major next year."

Parents Say Hazing a Problem

Parents of other band members told the Orlando Sentinel that hazing had been a problem for the entire season, and that they were told by their children Champion had died as part of a ritual to earn respect of senior drum majors.

Julie Lopez, whose son is in the band, said her son had been told Champion was "crossing bus C," a ritual where new band members are beaten as they walk from the back to the front of the bus.

"Everyone was talking about it," Lopez told the paper. "It was a planned event."

Police would not comment on what type of hazing may have taken place aboard the bus.

The university has had trouble with hazing in the past, with at least seven reports of hazing to campus public safety over the past decade, according to university spokeswoman Sharon Saunders.

The school has an extensive anti-hazing policy posted on its website, with punishments including suspension and expulsion.

In 2004, a former band member won a $1.8 million lawsuit against other band members over an incident in which he was allegedly beaten with paddling boards so badly that his kidneys shut down temporarily.