OXFORD, Miss., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Federal investigators are investigating an incident at the University of Mississippi as a hate crime after two men were spotted hanging a noose around the neck of the statue of civil rights icon James Meredith on campus.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations has joined forces with the University Police Department in seeking two alleged suspects who were seen near the Meredith statue after it was found with a noose around its neck and draped with an old Georgia state flag, which contains the Confederate battle symbol.
Witnesses said they heard the two suspects, both adult men, shouting racial slurs. One of the men may have been wearing camouflage pants.
The FBI entered the investigation at the request of the university, and is considering prosecuting the vandalism as a hate crime in violation of U.S. Code 18243, which prohibits racial intimidation and makes it a crime to deny equal opportunity and access through intimidation, said University of Mississippi spokesman Danny Blanton.
The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects.
"We’re hoping the significance of the reward will prompt people to give us information to lead us to the suspects,” Blanton said.
The desecration of the statue was discovered by university landscaping crew early Sunday morning, Blanton said. Photographs were taken for evidence, then the noose and flag were removed.
Meredith was the first African American student to attend the university, and the statue commemorates his 1962 enrollment and the the school's integration. He lives in Jackson, and would not comment on the incident.