Hazing Ritual of a Band Is Described in Documents
May 23, 2012
MIAMI — Hoping to earn the respect of his band mates, Robert Champion agreed to enter Bus C in an Orlando parking lot one evening last fall and walk to the back in a common but brutal Florida A & M University hazing ritual — one that cost him his life, according to documents released Wednesday by prosecutors.
Hours after performing at the Florida Classic, a football game in Orlando on Nov. 19, Mr. Champion, a drum major, entered the dark bus and was pummeled with hands, drumsticks, bass drum mallets, straps and even an orange cone. At least 15 band members struck and kicked Mr. Champion as he tried to reach the back of the bus. Once he touched the back, the ritual called “crossing Bus C,” part of a rule-laden tradition, would be complete.
Mr. Champion, 26, made it to the back of the bus. Then he complained of feeling sick, and collapsed. He died shortly after of “hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt-force trauma,” according to the medical examiner’s report.
Two other band members also crossed Bus C that evening just before Mr. Champion. One of them, Lissette Sanchez, 19, said she was placed in the “hot seat” first, a separate ritual in which students sit in the last seat on the right side of the bus, hunch over, cover their bodies with a blanket and are struck on the back with drumsticks and open hands for several minutes, as if a cadence is being played.
Later, Ms. Sanchez “crossed” the bus and asked band members to avoid her kidneys because they were weak. She briefly lost consciousness.
“The purpose?” Jonathan Boyce, the head drum major and a friend of Mr. Champion’s, told the police in a deposition. “I mean it’s to, it’s like a respect thing, you know, kinda, sorta. It’s sad to say, you know.”
“He was wanting to do it all season,” Mr. Boyce added.
The account was one of several in the documents from band members who described details of the celebrated marching band’s culture of hazing and recounted what occurred on the bus the evening Mr. Champion died.
Eleven people, including Mr. Boyce, have been charged with felony hazing in Mr. Champion’s death, and two people have been charged with misdemeanors.
Even though Mr. Champion was a popular drum major, he apparently felt the need to endure the hazing on Bus C, which is where most of the band’s percussionists ride. One student told the police that drum majors would be beaten more ferociously than others because they were leaders. Others were singled out to cross the bus because of lapses on the field or because they were reluctant to participate in hazing.
Mr. Champion’s parents said Wednesday at a news conference that they could not believe their son had volunteered to be hazed.
“He was murdered on that bus, and no one signs up for that,” said Pam Champion, Mr. Champion’s mother.
Not all band members participated in hazing. Requesta Harden, a percussionist, bowed out in fear after her first experience. She took part in the “hot seat” that weekend and was hit with drumsticks more than 200 times.
Ms. Harden told detectives she felt so ill that at one point she “blanked out” and had to sit out Saturday’s game.
The tradition demands three hot seats over time, and then a person is permitted to “cross the bus.” Mr. Champion went through the hot seat, too, one student said.
Keon Hollis, a fellow drum major and Mr. Champion’s friend, crossed the bus shirtless just before Mr. Champion that Saturday night. The crowd piled on top, pushing and pulling and beating. Afterward, Mr. Hollis threw up.
Mr. Champion, he said, was reluctant but decided to do it anyway.
“Honestly, I did it for the same reasons everybody else do it,” he said. “Get the respect of people, just acceptance.”