Johnson said she thinks White has tried hard to stop the hazing behavior, but other leaders in the band continue to participate.
FAMU parent Julie Lopez said her son, a band member, received a call from another student saying Champion was "crossing bus C" when he died.
She asked her son to describe the "rite of passage," which involves beating a new section member who is walking from the back to the front of a bus. To earn the respect and acceptance of his fellow drum majors, Champion may have endured this pummeling, all three parents who contacted the Sentinel said.
"Everyone was talking about it," Lopez said. "It was a planned event."
It is still unclear what type of hazing incident took place aboard the charter bus, and Demings would not answer questions at the news conference Tuesday.
Walter Kimbrough, an expert on hazing, said the prestige of the FAMU band — the drum-major position is particularly coveted — could entice students to submit to abuse.
"It's the most famous [college] band in the world, and so you can create rituals and customs in that band because people want to belong," said Kimbrough, president of the historically black Philander Smith University in Little Rock, Ark.
The problem, he said, is not confined to bands.
In 2005, Florida became one of the few states to make hazing a felony. The Chad Meredith law is named after a University of Miami student who drowned in 2001 after drinking during a fraternity hazing.
"It's a higher-education problem," Kimbrough said. "It just manifests in different ways."
Ocoee High band director and 1997 FAMU grad Bernard Hendricks called the recent incident "very sad, very shocking." And the possibility that the death was "band-related" is more of a shock, he said.
Hendricks marched in the band in the 1990s, and said he recalled some hazing but nothing physical.
"It was a lot more verbal and mental," he said.
Hendricks said if he made a mistake on the field, he "expected" someone to call him out.
Now that's he's a band director, Hendricks said he watches for hazing in his own classroom.
"As a teacher, I try to make sure that it doesn't creep into what I do."
On Tuesday, Bethune-Cookman University released a statement saying its president, Trudie Kibbe Reed, and the entire B-CU family offered its "sincerest condolences" to FAMU "and the family of drum major, Mr. Robert Champion, for their tragic loss."
In his remarks Tuesday, FAMU's Ammons addressed rumors that Champion was hazed, saying that the school was cooperating fully with the sheriff's investigation.
"Hazing is illegal," Ammons said, adding that the school is dealing with the issue and vowing to make sure "we end this practice."
The Tallahassee school has received seven reports of hazing in the past decade, officials said. Two of those cases resulted in the arrests of three people, according to university spokeswoman Sharon Saunders. The other cases were not prosecuted or the victims refused to cooperate, she said.
Saunders said the school has an anti-hazing policy, and band director White said he has dismissed more than two dozen band members recently because of possible hazing incidents.
Ammons said band performances would be halted "out of respect" for Champion's family.
Former FAMU marching-band member Marcus Parker won a $1.8 million verdict against members of the band in 2004, stemming from an incident in 2001, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville.
The newspaper reported that Parker was beaten with paddling boards so badly during a Marching 100 initiation that one of his kidneys shut down temporarily. Five men were held liable for his injuries.
Staff writers Jon Busdeker, Susan Jacobson and Jeff Weiner contributed to this report. email@example.com or 407-883-7796.