Armed University of Mississippi students posed in front of a memorial to lynched civil rights icon Emmett Till, an "offensive and hurtful" act that led to their fraternity suspending the undergrads, officials said Thursday.
Three students, two of them brandishing weapons, posed in front of the purple sign that marks the place where Till's body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River in August, 1955.
One of the students posted the photo to his private Instagram account in March, according to an article by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.
Ben LeClere was the Ole Miss student holding a shotgun while John Lowe squatted below the sign and a third unidentified frat member held up an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica reported.
Ole Miss declined to name the students involved. An email sent to LeClere by NBC News bounced back and text messages to cell phones associated with his family were not returned.
Lowe did not immediately return a Facebook messenger request for comment.
"The chapter has suspended the men in the photo," the students' national fraternity Kappa Alpha order said in a statement.
"The making of the photo was unrelated to any event or activity of our chapter. The chapter's leadership learned of the photo late last night. The photo is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter. We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University."
While Ole Miss backs Kappa Alpha's action, the university cannot take any additional action against the students, campus spokesman Rod Guajardo said.
"While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of university code of conduct. It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event," according to a statement by Guajardo
"We support the actions made by the Kappa Alpha Order leadership in suspending the students involved, and we are aware that this decision is backed by its National Administrative Offices. We stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.
Till, a 14-year-old African American from Chicago, was visiting family in Mississippi when a gang of white men abducted, tortured and murdered him.
Till's mom had her son's casket open at his funeral to show the murder's brutality. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men accused of the slaying.
News of the slaying, the shocking pictures from his funeral and the acquittal of the suspects became a galvanizing force for the civil rights movement.