Funeral for Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion becomes call to action to end hazing

A horse drawn carriage carried the casket of Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion, led by fellow band members, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 in Decatur, Ga.
AP/ David Goldman

(CBS/AP) DECATUR, Ga. - At Wednesday's funeral for Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, many spoke out for an end to hazing, believed to be linked to the death of the 26-year-old twelve days earlier.

Pastor John Tatum told the hundreds gathered in the church pews that it was time to end the "foolish" hazing in college marching bands and fraternities.

"If there's anything about this man's legacy we need to put a stop to, it's hazing," he urged. "I call upon every parent, every mother, every what is necessary now to stop this tragedy from ever happening again. Right now."

Eight former band mates saluted Champion by walking toward his open casket, batons raised in unison. They abruptly turned to show their capes embroidered with the letters C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N.

The marching band of Southwest DeKalb High School, which Champion attended, played somber melodies and were joined by an 18-member church choir behind his casket. Champion lay wearing his college band uniform, clutching his gleaming baton.

At the start of the service, Champion's mother, Pam, squeezed her son's hand a final time, and his father whispered into his ear. During the service "Flight of the Bumblebee," one of Champion's favorite songs, was played over the loudspeaker.

Champion was found dead Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after the Florida A&M football team lost to a rival. Police said he had been vomiting and having trouble breathing before he collapsed. Further details have not been released.

Police in Tallahassee, where the school is located, are investigating another case of possible hazing in the marching band involving a freshman clarinet player. She had suffered a fractured thigh bone and hurt knee, her parents said.

In the days following Champion's death,  A&M band director Julian White was fired, and the school announced an independent investigation. The school president said he will work to end the long practice of hazing in the marching band.

"I vow Robert's death will not be in vain," he said.

Champion's parents are suing Florida A&M, the family's attorney has said.

Complete coverage of the Florida A&M hazing case on Crimesider