Hazing News

Chilling details in Robert Champion Death released

Breaking news: sworn statement released giving chilling decision on Robert Champion’s choice to go through deadly gauntlet on FAMU Bus C

Excerpt: Hollis’ version of events leading to the tragic scene aboard Bus C on Nov. 19 is contained in a three-page, typewritten statement that the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office made public Tuesday. It’s the most detailed accounting of the thought process that went into Champion’s decision to put himself through the ritual beating.

Given under oath, Hollis’ statement also describes in troubling detail the beating that he and Champion took that night. It is part of a 104-page probable-cause document that outlines the state’s criminal case against Dante Martin, the unofficial “president” or leader of Bus C.

Martin recently became the 12th member of the band to be charged with felony hazing in connection with Champion’s death.

The 11 others charged with felonies in Champion’s death were arrested in May. Two other former band members are charged with misdemeanor hazing.

In his statement, Hollis, 22, describes how his friendship with Champion, 26, evolved and why they felt compelled to submit to the hazing ritual together after the Florida Classic football game.

“We were ‘Squad Dogs,’ a term used to define the people who made drum major together. So that meant we were our brother’s keeper,” wrote Hollis, who was Champion’s roommate during the weekend in Orlando.
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Hollis also explained the various reasons why he thought some band members disrespected them.

“Many people in the band were already in Bus C so those individuals would give us the hardest time and disrespect simply because we did not cross yet,” he wrote.

Hollis said he did not want to be involved in the hazing after the football game because he and some other band members were going out that night. But Martin reminded Hollis that the Classic, FAMU’s final football game of the year, was a last chance. If they didn’t cross Bus C then, they would have to wait until next year.

After performing at the Classic, the two men changed clothes in their hotel room and reluctantly agreed to cross Bus C.

“I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do it and he stated, ‘Yea I just want to get it over with,’ ” Hollis wrote. “So then I took a shot of vodka and I and Robert went downstairs …”

Hollis explained how he boarded a bus that was “very cold” from the air conditioning and “very dark” because it was parked in a dimly lit lot behind the Rosen Plaza hotel.

He described how he was instructed by Martin to sit with his head down on the left side of the bus and Champion was told to sit on the right as a young woman began taking her punishment in the Bus C ritual before them.

As the young woman made her way from the front of the bus to the back through a gauntlet of fists, feet, drum sticks, drum mallets and other items, Martin announced that Champion had not yet completed a different hazing ritual called the “hot seat.”

Typically, band members have to complete one or more rounds of the “hot seat” — being beaten while sitting — before they can cross Bus C.

Champion withstood that beating before Hollis was directed to start crossing. He described the difficulty of moving through a crowd of fellow band members who were trying to beat him, hold him back and force him to the floor.

He described Champion’s struggle to make it to the back. At one point, Champion fell down and the crowd dragged him back to the front of the bus to start over. As Champion moved toward the back, two other drum majors started pulling Champion to help him along.

After the hazing, many band members returned to the hotel. After repeatedly vomiting in the parking lot, Hollis went to lie down in one of the hotel rooms.

That is where he learned Champion was rushed to the hospital and later died.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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