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Four charged with hazing after Virginia student drowning

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Four men have been charged with hazing following the drowning of at least one Virginia State University student, who was swept to his death as he attempted to cross the Appomattox River as part of an initiation rite, police said on Tuesday.

A second student remained missing on Tuesday, three days after seven male students were pulled down the river by the current as they tried to cross on April 20 as part of their initiation into a group known as "Men of Honor."

The rest of the men were pulled to safety or drifted to shore, a police statement said.

College hazing has attracted attention since the high profile 2011 death of 26-year-old Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion during a band trip. That death was ruled a homicide and led to felony charges against a number of band members.

In Virginia, police in Chesterfield County said they charged four men with five counts each of hazing following the drowning of 19-year-old Marvell Edmondson, a freshman at Virginia State University in Ettrick.

Edmonson's body was recovered on Monday, while fellow freshman Jauwan M. Holmes, also 19, remained missing. Police divers were searching the river for his body.

The four men charged with hazing were linked to the "Men of Honor" group, police said. They include James A. Mackey, 35 of Midlothian; freshman Cory D. Baytop, 26 of Newport News; and freshman Eriq K. Benson, 19, of Quinton.

Police said Charles E Zollicoffer, 29, had also been charged but was not yet in custody.

Virginia State University President Keith T. Miller said the school was grieving after the body of Edmonson was recovered.

"We trust this development provides a sense of relief to Marvell's family and pray for both of our students' families," he said.

A Virginia State spokesman has said that "Men of Honor" was not a sanctioned club at the university, although the school was aware of the group. Spokesman Thomas Reed said the group had inquired about a year ago about establishing itself at the school, but never filled out any paperwork.

On Sunday, the university went into a lockdown and established a curfew following a vigil for the missing students. The curfew was lifted the next morning.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andre Grenon)

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