Update: Tony Giro, co-head coach of the UMBC women’s lacrosse team, has been placed on leave, the university announced in a statement Wednesday morning, two days after news broke that five players had been suspended for threatening teammates on social media. The team’s other co-coach, Amy Slade, has been appointed head coach, the school announced. The statement said Giro “is now on leave from the university to allow the Retrievers to focus on their upcoming conference season.”

Original post, March 17: UMBC has suspended five women’s lacrosse players who reportedly threatened freshman teammates with bodily harm on social media. The school also has halted contact drills at team practices, the Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

According to the Sun, senior Alyssa Semones, junior Brittany Marquess and sophomores Mackenzie Reese, Amber Kovalick and Meghan Milani were suspended on March 11, hours before the Retrievers defeated Drexel, 17-10.

On Monday, four of the players — Kovalick, Milani, Reese and Semones — issued an apology through a public-relations firm they hired “to assist with navigating a very difficult public issue.” Per the Sun:

Rob Weinhold, of the Fallston Group, said the players thought they were communicating in a private chat room “to vent with one another about some of the occurrences on the team and that digital conversation became public.” He said they never intended to physically harm anyone.

The Baltimore Post-Examiner has obtained 16 pages of text screenshots containing the social-media posts:

In one text, a player asked if she can just threaten the freshmen. That triggered the response from another player, “Can we just kill them?”
To which another replied, “I’ll pitch in.”

Lacrosse Magazine has more on the events that led to the suspension:

On Friday, March 6, Retrievers co-coaches Tony Giro and Amy Slade showed athletic administrators a GroupMe exchange that, according to images obtained by Lacrosse Magazine and local media, contained graphic language and messages about killing and injuring the team’s freshmen players. The context of the messages was unclear.
“Upon learning of it, we took immediate precautions to ensure the safety of our student-athletes,” Hall said. “Those things included supervision by administrators of team practices, as well as changing practices to non-contact drills to ensure safety.”
Athletic department officials brought the information to UMBC’s division of student affairs, which oversees athletics. The players were suspended five days later, before the Retrievers’ home game against Drexel last Wednesday.

Hall also told Lacrosse Magazine that he removed Giro from the team last week as a precaution (Slade led the team to wins over Drexel and Manhattan). The players reportedly referred to Giro as “Hitler Tony” for protecting certain players, Lacrosse Magazine reports.

However, the Baltimore Post-Examiner reports that Giro refused to attend the Drexel game “unless the administration removed the players accused of threatening the freshmen from the team.” The Post-Examiner also reports that trouble had been brewing on the team for some time, according to unnamed parents:

The incident comes in the aftermath of other allegations alleged by parents who said at the beginning of the school year, upperclassmen on the team allegedly forced their freshman colleagues to donate $20 to fund an alcohol party and last year a senior on the team had provided alcohol to her teammates on a bus trip en route to an out of state game. Parents said UMBC let the student off with an apology letter.
It’s unkown why only five were suspended when others took part in the group text chat, including one player who said she wants to “strangle that (freshman).” The school also could not explain why students who have threatened to kill or maim another student are not expelled per the school’s student conduct policy or even why insubordinate players remain on the team.

According to the Sun, UMBC is conducting an investigation to determine whether the threats constituted hazing or bullying. Under Maryland’s anti-hazing law, “A person may not recklessly or intentionally do an act or create a situation that subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of an initiation into a student organization of a school, college, or university.”

Violations of Maryland’s anti-hazing law are considered a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in prison, or both.