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Florida A&M drum major death ruled a homicide

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - A medical examiner has ruled the death of a Florida A&M University drum major a homicide by blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident, according to a news release on Friday.

Robert Champion, 26, died after a performance by the school's internationally renowned band at the annual Florida Classic in Orlando on November 19.

Champion, a music major from Atlanta who served as one of six drum majors for the historically black college's 375-member Marching "100" band, vomited and complained that he could not breathe on a band bus after the game.

Law enforcement officials had said they suspected hazing was involved but until now the medical examiner's office had not issued a cause of death.

The medical examiner's report states Champion collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident. His body showed signs of multiple blows to his chest, arms, shoulders and back, as well as extensive internal bleeding.

"Immediately after the hazing incident, he complained of thirst and fatigue; minutes later, he noted loss of vision and soon after had a witnessed arrest," the report said.

The medical examiners said Champion's symptoms were consistent with hypotension or shock. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was attempted, which caused him to regurgitate into his airways, according to the report.

The autopsy showed that Champion was otherwise healthy, with no alcohol or drugs in his system.

Champion's death has roiled the university and put a national spotlight on hazing rituals within the marching band. Three band members were arrested earlier this week in connection with a separate hazing incident in which police said a fellow band member was beaten so badly her leg was broken.

The band's activities have been suspended, and band director Julian White was placed on administrative leave with pay.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott called on the FAMU board to also suspend university President James Ammons while investigations into Champion's death and separate allegations of financial mismanagement at the university were ongoing.

The governor and Ammons met behind closed doors Friday afternoon. Afterward, Ammons told reporters that stepping down temporarily was "something I'm considering" but said he would likely wait until the FAMU board meets Monday to decide.

The board publicly reprimanded Ammons earlier this month.

"We all have the best interest of Florida A&M University at heart," Ammons said. "We are all going to do what is best for the university."

In a joint statement, Ammons and board chairman Solomon Badger III said the results of the medical examiner's report were "extremely upsetting," and they vowed to create a safe environment to ensure a similar incident never again happens at the school.

Christopher Chestnut, the Champion family's attorney, told Reuters that the family was "distraught" over the conclusion of the medical examiner.

"It confirms their worst nightmare," he said. "They were certainly hoping their son hadn't been murdered, but that's the reality. It reopens their wounds."

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier in Tallahassee, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

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