OXFORD, Miss. - The University of Mississippi wants to question three white students in connection with the vandalism of the statue of James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first black student to enroll in the then all-white university.
University officials said Friday in a statement that the three students, all 19-year-old males from Georgia, had declined to be questioned and have sought legal counsel. Their identities were not released.
Police on Sunday found a noose tied around the neck of the statue, along
with an old Georgia flag with a Confederate battle emblem in its design. The
design has since been updated to exclude the emblem.
University Police Department Chief Calvin Sellers said he is working with federal and state authorities "to determine whether criminal charges were applicable." The FBI has been assisting in the investigation.
Ole Miss legal counsel Lee Tyner said in the statement that he and Sellers
believe sufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges against the three. Earlier this week, campus police said they were analyzing surveillance video in connection with the investigation, according to CBS affiliate WJTV.
"Working through an adviser to the students, university police had arranged a meeting for Thursday morning," Sellers said, "but the students did not appear as promised."
Sellers said attorneys for the students declined to make their clients available for questioning without an arrest warrant.
Tyner said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not permit the university to release the names of the students unless criminal charges are filed.
The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering at $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Sellers said the reward offer gave police some good leads in the case.
When Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss in fall 1962, Mississippi's governor
tried to stop him, leading to violence on the Oxford campus. U.S. Attorney
General Robert Kennedy sent 500 U.S. marshals to take control and days later, Meredith
was allowed in the school. Though he faced harassment during his time at the
school, he graduated with a degree in political science.
"That just clearly shows that we're not training our children like the Bible says," Meredith, 80, told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday in response to the vandalism incident. "They don't know right and wrong, good and bad and how to apply it to life."