May 24, 2012 — -- Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion endured a lethal pummeling down the aisle of a pitch black bus that rocked from the force of the violence inside, the culmination of a tradition of violent hazing at the nationally known marching band.
Champion struggled, with a female band member holding him back to prolong the punishment, through a gauntlet of band mates who used their fists, feet, straps and sticks to pound him into unconsciousness.
Over 2,000 pages of evidence from the investigation into Champion's death were released by the Florida District Attorney's Office and they deliver a blow-by-blow of the night's events.
They also describe a culture that considers repeated "hot seat" beatings and the final "crossing over" gauntlet that killed Champion as rites of passage.
"It's a respect thing, you know," Jonathan Boyce told investigators.
Band members said that the band director and bus driver were not on the bus for the "crossing over," but that they were sometimes up front watching movies during the "hot seat" beatings.
Boyce, the head band member now charged with felony hazing, told detectives that Champion "was wanting to do it [cross over] all season," but Boyce had been reluctant to let him. Champion could not participate without Boyce's permission, as dictated by the band's internal code of hierarchy.
The band was in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 19, 2011 for the last game of the football season. Boyce asked Champion if she still wanted to participate.
"I was like, 'Do you still want to do it?' So he was like, 'Yes,'" Boyce told detectives. "I was like, 'Fine.'"
Champion, 26, was a member of the college's famed "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game.
His death was ruled a homicide and 11 people have been charged with felony hazing and two have been charged with misdemeanor hazing in connection to Champion's death.
That night, Boyce said he was in a friend's room at the hotel when he got a call that Champion was going to do it, so he rushed to the bus to "try to save him," according to his interview with the police.
Meanwhile, Champion had begun the hazing. He was shirtless as dictated by the band's rules—women wear only sports bras as they "cross over" —and he was the third band member to try to make his way to the back of bus that night.
Ryan Dean, another band member indicted for felony hazing, told detectives that he yelled into Champion's ear, "Come on, push through." A woman was holding Champion back as fists rained down on him.
Keon Hollis went with Champion to the bus for the "crossing over." He told police that took a shot of alcohol before heading for the bus.
"It was really dark on the bus," he told detectives. "I couldn't really make out faces, but I know it was a lot of people."
When asked to explain the process, Hollis said, "Basically, get on the bus and you have to take your shirt off and you basically have to make it from the front of the bus to the back of the bus." Hollis told the detective that the goal is to "just get through it as quick as you can."
"They was using hands, straps, think [I] saw a comb," later described as a large plastic orange comb, he said. Hollis said they used drum sticks and kicks as well.
At the end of the ordeal, Hollis walked back to the front of the bus, through applause and "hooting and hollering" from his band mates. When he got outside the bus, he threw up.
While Hollis tried to compose himself, Champion started down the aisle. He battled through the storm of fists and feet with a female band member holding him back to prolong the punishment.
At its most severe, Champion collapsed into a seat, prompting a band member to brace himself on seat backs and jump up and down on the drum major for an estimated 15 seconds. Champion was greeted with a flurry of seven to 10 punches when he pushed himself free and resumed his death march down the bus aisle.
At least one band member jumped from seat to seat to get to the back of the bus to get another chance at Champion.
"By the time I got there he was maybe like a foot or two away from the back of the bus," Boyce said. "So I climb over the seats all the way to the back."
When he reached Champion, Boyce said he grabbed him "to try to keep everybody off of him" and "put my body around his body" to try to stop the beating.
Moments later, Champion touched the wall indicating that he had made it to the back.
Drum Major Robert Champion's Hazing Death
"And so then it was over," Boyce said.
Champion asked for water and they gave him Gatorade. He complained that he was having trouble breathing and that he couldn't see, though his eyes were wide open.
Band members got him to the steps of the bus, but he continued to say that he could not breathe.
"I checked him, he wasn't saying anything…he wasn't responsive or anything," band member Darryl Cearnel told detectives. Cearnel said he had first aid training. "They was calling his name and [he] wasn't saying anything. And I checked his pulse."
They had Champion lay on the ground and someone called 911 while Cearnel did CPR.
"I don't even remember, like, if he even came back," he said. "I started doing CPR again, mouth to mouth, started doing chest compresses."
He said Champion vomited and Cearnel took off his shirt to wipe his mouth clean. Moments later an ambulance arrived. He died on the way to the hospital.
Though band members told detectives that Champion "never approved" of the hazing rituals, they also said that in order to be considered for leadership positions, one would have to have crossed over.
"Crossing over" was only one aspect of the band's hazing traditions. Multiple band members told investigators that they were routinely called to the back of the bus by a tap on the shoulder by older students for a "hot seat" after doing something wrong.
In the "hot seat" they would have a blanket thrown over them and they were pummeled with fists, drum sticks and bass drum mallets.
The bus driver and the band director who often sat in the front of the bus were unaware of the "hot seats" because they would be paying attention to the road or watching a movie, band members said.
"The word hazing is not what was actually done," Champion's mother Pam Champion said at a news conference Wednesday. She has maintained that her son was murdered and that he was not a violent person.
"My son would never sign up for this," she said. "Nobody in their right mind would sign up for this."