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Prosecutor: At least 13 to be charged in FAMU band hazing case

13 people will be charged in the case of a Florida marching band drum major who was killed in Orlando. NBC's Chris Clackum reports.

Updated at 10:05 p.m. ET: Thirteen people were charged Wednesday in the death of Florida A&M university drum major Robert Champion, who died after being beaten during a hazing ritual in November.

State Attorney Lawson Lamar announced the charges at a news conference Wednesday, five months after Champion, 26, died aboard a chartered bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. He called the young man’s death an American tragedy.

Prosecutors say Champion was hazed to death by bandmates in November after the annual Florida Classic football game in Orlando. Florida’s A&M football team had lost.

"No one would have expected that his college experience would have included being pummeled to death," Lamar, the state attorney for Orange-Osceola County, said during the news conference. “I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying, bullying with a tradition.”

Lamar said 11 of the 13 people charged face felony charges. Most of the charges were third-degree felonies for "hazing with death," punishable under Florida law by a maximum of six years in jail, according to Lamar. Twenty others face misdemeanor charges, including some for others victims who were not seriously injured.

Lamar said he would not release names until all are in custody, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Authorities announced Wednesday evening that Caleb Jackson, 24, Rikki Wills, 24, were charged with felony hazing. Wills was a drum major last fall. Jackson has been booked 10 times before, for domestic battery, disorderly conduct and aggravated battery, according to inmate records.

The medical examiner ruled Champion’s death a homicide in the course of hazing by the university’s celebrated Marching 100 band. Detectives told The Associated Press that he suffered blunt trauma blows and died from shock caused by severe bleeding. Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.  

One of the hazing traditions, according to The New York Times, was to punch a band member walking down the aisle of the bus.

FAMU marching band members to face charges in drum major hazing death

In a six-minute 911 call obtained by the AP, an unidentified caller asked the dispatcher for an ambulance, saying that Champion had just vomited.

"His eyes are open, but he's not responding," the caller said. Another person took the phone and said, “He is cold.”  

Shortly after, the call was disconnected.

Four students were dismissed after the alleged hazing, but Champion’s parents were frustrated that no charges had been filed.

Witnesses have told Champion’s parents that he might have been targeted because he opposed the culture of hazing that they say has long existed in the band. It was also suggested to them that he was targeted because he was gay and a candidate for chief drum major.

But Champion's parents dismissed the notion that his sexual orientation triggered this incident.

"The main reason that we heard is because he was against hazing, and he was totally against it," Champion's father, Robert Champion Sr. told the AP.

His parents have sued the bus company.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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