GROSSE POINT FARMS, Mich. — As the accusations of bullying continued to follow Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, another former friend and classmate of the presumptive GOP nominee said it was a “shock” to hear the stories and it wasn’t the friend he knew, describing Romney as more of a prankster than a bully.
“I would say the pranking would ring true, but the bullying was just a shock to me,” Peter Maxwell told ABC News.
In a twist, it was Maxwell’s own brother Philip who joined four other men who described a troubling incident they said they witnessed, in a story first reported by the Washington Post.
The Maxwell brothers both graduated from the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Peter in 1964, one year before his brother Phillip and Romney.
Phillip Maxwell and the four others recounted a story of Romney as a teenager cutting the hair of a student presumed to be gay while he was pinned to the ground.
Phillip Maxwell called it a “haunting memory” in an interview with ABC News and said it was a “hack job” with “clumps” of the boy’s “hair taken off.” Phillip Maxwell even called the boys, himself included, a “pack of dogs.”
Following Phillip’s account, his brother Peter is now coming forward with his own description of Mitt Romney as a high school student.
“For Mitt to be a bully just shocks me. We grew up with him. He was the kind of a guy who would bend over backwards to do something for you and would go out of his way to help people and for him to be characterized as a bully would be the farthest thing from the truth,” Maxwell said.
Peter Maxwell describes himself as a Republican and said he voted for Romney in the Michigan primary in February and said he will vote for him in November.
Peter Maxwell said the incident, which he says Phillip didn’t reveal to him until month ago, is surprising but something to be taken into the context of the time. He also said he saw Cranbrook as quite accepting, with students of all religions and cultures, calling it a “mix bag.”
Phillip Maxwell, who told ABC News he votes for both Republicans and Democrats, said he was there, describing the incident differently.
“When you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye you never forget it. And that was what we all walked away with,” Phillip Maxwell said.
In what now appears to have become a debate within their own family, Peter Maxwell said his brother, with whom he speaks with frequently, has a tendency to “expound on things.”
“He kind of gets into the emotions of a situation or a moment in time and loves to expound on things,” Peter Maxwell said of his brother. “I’m not necessarily saying exaggerate, but wants to take things to a higher level and he made a comment the other day, ‘Oh God, today they would consider that almost assault and battery.’ And I said, ‘You sound like a prosecutor in Northern Michigan.’ … I said, ‘Come on, ‘What really was it?’ And he said, ‘The kid had long hair and it wasn’t really what people were into at the time.’ And I said, ‘Let’s kind of look at it that way. Let’s not make it a national media event for an incident that happened in 1965.’”
When asked about the other men who described the incident in a similar way, Peter Maxwell acknowledged he a had already graduated and was not there, but still believed it was a prank and not bullying.
The charge of “assault and battery” is something Phillip Maxwell brought up as well with ABC News and said that as a lawyer it is how he now sees it.
The brothers clearly have different views of the incident.
Peter Maxwell said Romney liked to pull pranks, something the Romney campaign and even his wife Ann have liked to mention on the trail, but he stressed that he saw the pranks as never “mean spirited.” Maxwell recalled a culture of pranking and worse, including drag racing and underage drinking, but stressed “gay bashing” and bullying was something he never saw.
“He always had a little bit of twinkle in his eye and always, ‘OK, maybe we can make a joke out of this,” Peter Maxwell said, referring to Romney.
“I just don’t think it was a gay bashing moment. I think it was more like, ‘Let’s cut this kid’s hair. He doesn’t fit the Cranbrook profile,’” Maxwell said.
When asked if he believed it was possible that Romney didn’t remember the incident when it was so seared into the memory of others, Peter Maxwell, who does not remember the boy in question, called it a “lapse of convenience,” but also noted how “busy” Romney has been over the last “50 years.”
ABC News’ David Muir and Barbara Lowe contributed to this story.