Florida prosecutors said 13 students have been charged in the death of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M University drum major who died last year after a hazing incident.
The charges were brought more than five months after Champion, 26, died on a chartered bus parked outside an Orlando Hotel after a football game.
Band students reportedly beat Champion as part of a hazing ritual. Authorities said the incident left him with bruises on his chest, back and shoulders. Following the beating, Champion started vomiting and was unresponsive aboard the bus.
According to ABC News, an autopsy revealed that the student died of internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma.
State Attorney Lawson Lamar told the Associated Press that 11 of the 13 people will face a hazing resulting death charge, which is a third degree felony. If they are found guilty, they could be sentenced to as many as six years in prison. The remaining students face misdemeanor charges. He added that the identities of the students will not be released until they are all arrested.
Lamar called Champion’s death an “American tragedy” at a May 2 news conference at the state attorney’s office.
“While Robert and his family were sacrificing and preparing for his entrance into college, which eventually should have given him a bright and meaningful future, no one could expect that his experience could include being pummeled to death,” Lamar said during the event.
“I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying. It’s bullying with a tradition that we cannot bear in America,” he added.
Officials said one of the individuals charged has been taken into custody, another is out of state and authorities are working on arresting the remaining 11.
Band members told investigators that Champion died after he participated in a hazing ritual called “crossing bus C” where new band members are beaten as they walk from the back to the front of the bus.
After the student’s death, four students were dismissed from the university, but were later reinstated. Band director Julian White was fired, but he was admitted back and put on administrative leave.
Experts predicted that prosecutors would have filed more serious charges like second-degree murder and manslaughter.
“The testimony obtained to date does not support a charge of murder, in that it does not contain elements of murder,” Lamar said during the news conference.
“We can prove participation in hazing and a death. We do not have a blow or a shot or a knife thrust that killed Mr. Champion. It is an aggregation of things which exactly fit the Florida statute as written by the Legislature,” he said, referring to the state’s hazing law that was passed in 2005.
FAMU has worked to eradicate hazing since Champion was killed, though the university has had multiple incidents involving the practice arise in the last six months.