Drum Major Robert Champion's Last Joyful Photo Before Dying

The parents of Robert Champion intend to sue Florida A&M.

ByABC News
November 28, 2011, 11:09 AM

Nov. 28, 2011— -- The Florida A&M drum major who allegedly died from a violent hazing texted a joyful photograph to his parents on the day he died.

The shot is a photo of Robert Champion with a young boy from a children's marching band, posing in their uniforms on the field.

"This picture says so much, it's like I'm looking at myself," Champion, 26, wrote to his parents.

Hours later, Champion was dead, allegedly a victim of violent hazing that has been a hallmark of the band for years.

"It needs to stop," Champion's mother Pam told a news conference today. "No one wants to hear your son collapsed and died. We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Champion's parents said they intend to sue the university and possibly the school's recently fired band director Julian White.

Drum Major's Parents to Sue in Alleged Hazing Death

Champions' attorney, Chris Chestnut, said the parents are acting to stop dangerous hazing.

"Somebody has to step up, open door wide open, so you can see what's hidden behind it," Chestnut said. "He died in foolishness. His legacy gives positivity to it. His legacy can be the end of hazing at FAMU."

"We've got to expose this culture and eradicate it. There's a patterns and practice of covering upthis culture," the lawyer said.

Champion's parents said they grieved through the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Thanksgiving and Christmas were all about parades. We would watch them together every year," Pam Champion said.

The mom said her son had always dreamed of joining the marching band.

"His first sight of the [Florida A&M University] band was at the age of 5. And ever since then, he set his goal," she told ABC News. "He would march around in the driveway with a broom handle."

Champion was living that dream, as a drum major in Florida A&M's famed "Marching 100." But on Nov. 19, he collapsed and died. The school has fired the band director, but the family says that's not enough and they plan to sue.

Police and former band members say Champion was likely forced to walk through a "gauntlet of fists." He reportedly vomited and said he couldn't breathe moments before his death.

"It appears that this school has done a cost-benefit analysis of hazing in the band, and they concluded that benefit was greater than the cost. And that cost Robert Champion his life," Chestnut said.

This is not the first time the school's marching band has been involved with hazing. Earlier this semester, 30 students were suspended over hazing incidents. In 2001, student Marcus Parker was paddled so intensely, his kidneys shut down. Parker was awarded $1.8 million in a civil suit.

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

Champion's parents say they had no idea any hazing was going on.

"He said everything is going good," his father said, "He never said anything to me about hazing."

His parents describe their son as a kind young man, gentle and humble, who always reached out to others.

"He wanted to be a part of music and that's the way he lived his life," his father said, "He wanted to get a degree in music and try to help other people, other kids develop themselves. And I'm proud of him."

That joyful spirit is what they now remember.

"When I woke up on Thanksgiving I tried to write down what I had to be thankful for, and I thought it was that I was thankful that I was chosen to be his mother," his mother said.