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Three white male students refused to be questioned by University of Mississippi officials about racist vandalism on a statue of James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend the school, university police said Friday.

On Monday, the University of Mississippi’s Alumni Association offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of two men who were heard shouting racial slurs while they draped the commemorative statue with a noose and an old Georgia state flag, according to the University Police Department.

University Chief of Police Calvin Sellers said the department had gathered enough evidence by Wednesday to bring charges against two 19-year-old male students from Georgia. A third student from Georgia was “prominent in the investigation,” Sellers said, according to a statement.

The university police set up a meeting with the students on Thursday, but the three did not attend and then sought out lawyers, Sellers said. The lawyers will not allow police to question their clients without an arrest warrant, Sellers added.

University of Mississippi Chief of Staff and General Counsel Lee Tyner said that state and federal assistance would help the school to pursue charges “to the full extent of the law,” and the process can proceed without the students’ cooperation.

James Meredith, now 80, fought to gain his acceptance to the University of Mississippi, and even after he was admitted to the newly -desegregated school, needed protection from Deputy Marshals for a year, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. He graduated in 1963.

The statue is engraved with the words, “Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and Perseverance."

— Elisha Fieldstadt
Students hold signs while posing for a photo during a gathering in front of the James Meredith statue at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. on Feb. 18, 2014.Thomas Graning / The Daily Mississippian via AP