Families of VSU hazing victims speak out about tragic loss

Posted at 3:52 PM, May 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-04 15:15:28-04

The parents of 19-year-old Marvell Edmondson and 19-year-old Jauwan Holmes were strangers just a few weeks ago, but they now share a heartbreaking bond. Their sons, Virginia State University freshmen, drowned together in the Appomattox River during a hazing ritual for the group Men of Honor.

"I will never hear my son tell me he loves me again," said Kim Edmondson.

"As a parent you never in your wildest dreams imagine that you'll get a call that your child went missing when he's off to college," said Steve Williams, Jauwan Holmes' father.

Chesterfield police say Charles Zollicoffer, James Mackey, Eriq Benson and Cory Baytop told Marvell, Jauwan and five other freshmen to walk through the river as part of their initiation into Men of Honor. The parents say the group tricked the boys into thinking it was a legitimate VSU organization, but they've since learned the group was not even recognized by VSU. Police say their task for initiation led to Jauwan and Marvell's deaths.

"Why was it this night?" Kim Edmondson asked. "Why was it 50 degree weather? Why were they half dressed?"

Chesterfield police charged the men with hazing, a misdemeanor in Virginia. It's maximum penalty carried a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

"[I'm] very fearful that they might get away with a slap on the wrist," said Williams.

The four parents are pushing state lawmakers to make hazing a felony, especially when it ends in death.

"When it involves fatal injuries and death somebody needs to be held accountable for it," said Marvell Edmondson, Sr.

"If it's a felony it may be a deterrent to some students to say maybe we need to think twice about initiating in this type of activity," said Williams.

Marvell has already been laid to rest. Jauwan's funeral will be held tomorrow at Peninsula Pentecostal Church at 10:30 a.m. The mother of Robert Champion, the FAMU drum major beaten to death during a hazing incident in 2011, will also be attending.

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