OXFORD -- A fraternity chapter at the University of Mississippi was indefinitely suspended Friday by its national organization and three of its freshman members were kicked out because of their suspected involvement in hanging a noose on a statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll in the then all-white college.
In a statement, Sigma Phi Epsilon said it suspended the Alpha Chapter and the chapter voted to expel all three men and turn over their identities to investigators.
Police on Sunday found a noose tied around the neck of the statue, along with an old Georgia flag with a Confederate battle emblem in its design.
When Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss in fall 1962, Mississippi's governor tried to stop him. That led to violence on the Oxford campus.
U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent 500 U.S. marshals to take control and days later, Meredith was allowed in the school.
The FBI said Friday it planned to expand the vandalism probe for potential violations of federal law.
"It is embarrassing that these men had previously identified with our fraternity," said Brian C. Warren Jr., CEO of Sigma Phi Epsilon. "SigEp as a national fraternity has championed racial equality and issues on diversity since 1959 when it became the first national fraternity to invite members of all races, creeds and religions to join its membership."
Warren said the fraternity will conduct a review to ensure members' values align with those it espouses.
The university tried Friday to question the three students in the vandalism but their attorneys would not allow that to happen without arrest warrants. The three have not been identified.
University spokesman Danny Blanton said Friday the school's findings have been turned over to the District Attorney's Office. He said the university will proceed with internal disciplinary action through a judicial panel of faculty and students.
The university is satisfied the three students under investigation are responsible for the statue's desecration, Blanton said.
The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering at $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. University Police Chief Calvin Sellers said the reward offer gave police some good leads.
Blanton said it's not yet clear who might share in the reward.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore he told WMC-TV in Memphis criminal charges would be difficult.
He said officials have looked into several misdemeanors, but he said criminal charges were unlikely by his office because the statue was not physically damaged, and the suspects did not appear to be trespassing.
He said federal investigators could opt to bring charges. He said if new information comes to light, his office could revisit the issue.