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FAMU band shut down while death investigated

GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press
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FAMU Marching Band. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

FAMU Marching Band. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida A&M University President James Ammons is suspending all practices and performances of the school’s famed Marching 100 band until investigators can determine what led to a member’s death last weekend.

Ammons contended he was making the move “out of respect” for the family of 26-year-old Robert Champion. He was found unresponsive on a bus parked in front of an Orlando hotel Saturday night after the school’s annual football clash with its key rival. Champion was vomiting and had complained he couldn’t breathe before he collapsed.

The decision to suspend the band comes amid growing questions of hazing among Marching 100 band members. FAMU officials acknowledged Tuesday that 30 students this past semester were kicked off the band due to their involvement with hazing and that there are currently three ongoing, active investigations.

“I think we need to stop and give ourselves the opportunity to find out the facts,” Ammons said. “And until we do I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have the band performing and representing the university.”

Ammons is not just suspending the Marching 100, but all bands and ensembles that operate under the supervision of the university music department. The move affects more than 400 students, but it comes after football season when the band has most of its performances. Its last performance was during the annual Florida Classic against Bethune-Cookman University.

The Marching 100 — whose rich history includes performing at several Super Bowls and representing the U.S. in Paris at the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution — was scheduled to perform at the fall commencement on Dec. 16.

Ammons also said on Monday that he was creating special task force to review issues related to the incident and examine whether there have been ongoing inappropriate band customs or traditions.

Ammons said the school will cooperate with Orange County deputies who are investigating the death.

This isn’t the first time that the Marching 100 has been confronted with hazing allegations.

Tallahassee police back in 1998 opened, and then closed, an investigation into an incident where a band member was hit more than 300 times with paddles as part of an initiation into the clarinet section. Police at the time dropped the case by saying the band member’s participation in the event was voluntary. In 1989, eight band members were charged with battery and jailed allegedly for holding a student against his will and beating his head with their elbows. Prosecutors dropped the charges after FAMU disciplined the suspects.

Ammons, who earned both his bachelor and master’s degree from FAMU, said he was “committed to making certain that we end this practice here at Florida A&M University.”

“I’m very disappointed that we are at this point in the life of this university and we are here in 2011 dealing with an issue that should have been long, long past on our campus,” he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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