The parents of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, who police believe died after a violent hazing, said today that their son may have been hazed more severely than other students because of his opposition to the practice.
"Robert Champion was the poster child of anti-hazing. He threatened the very institution of hazing in this band," said attorney Christopher Chestnut, a lawyer for Champion's family.
During their investigation into what happened to their son, Champion's family discovered that he was gay, but also concluded that was not a reason for his alleged hazing.
"This is not a hate crime," Chestnut said during a news conference today. "This is a hazing crime. That is what we are here to say today."
"We don't have all the answers and all the details," Pam Champion said today. "My son, he loved his music. He loved the band. His demeanor was more like following all the rules, doing what you should do as a band member. He was a perfectionist. ... He expected everybody to do the same."
Deceased Drum Major Opposed Band's Hazing Tradition
Robert Champion, 26, was a member of the college's "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game. Authorities said they believed that hazing was involved.
An autopsy revealed that he died of internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma, according to The Associated Press. Officials told the AP that he had bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back.
The school fired band director Julian White but he was later reinstated and put on administrative leave.
Chuck Hobbes, White's attorney, told ABC News today the band director had not been aware of Robert Champion's sexual orientation.
Hobbes said today that previously it had not made sense to him why the drum major who had been with the band for more than five years would "cross bus C," a ritual where new band members are beaten as they walk from the back to the front of the bus.
"Drum majors are like the captain of the football teams," he said.
Hobbes said it was his legal opinion that "perhaps he was singled out or dragged onto the bus ... because of the fact that some individuals had a bias against [him] because he was a homosexual."
Sources told ABC News today that Chestnut had been interviewing witnesses for a legal case when he discovered that Champion was gay.
Champion's parents were vaguely aware of his sexuality, but did not know that there were rumors of a connection to his death.
"Robert did have an alternative lifestyle," Chestnut said today.
He said witnesses said that was not a primary factor in the hazing, however.
"It's difficult to know the true motives of every person," Chestnut said.
The school suspended all performance and engagements of any bands and ensembles and four band members also were dismissed from FAMU. They were then reinstated.
During the news conference today, Champion's parents said they planned to sue Fabulous Coach Lines, the company that owns the bus on which the hazing allegedly took place, claiming negligence and wrongful death.
Ray Land, owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, told The Associated Press in December that his staff got help after they were notified of a problem.
In December, freshman Bria Shante Hunter filed hazing charges against three members of the marching band and sued the school after she was rushed to the emergency room with a broken thigh bone 11 days after Champion's death.
Hunter was also a member of the band's secretive Red Dawg Order, which was made up of band members from Georgia, primarily from Atlanta.