Weeks after videos went viral of a group of MAGA hat–wearing teenage boys from a Kentucky Catholic school confronting a Native American elder, a third-party investigation on behalf of the school and diocese has found "no evidence of offensive or racist statements" by the students.
The Diocese of Covington, which initially denounced the students' behavior and said they could face expulsion, celebrated the news and said the teenagers had been "exonerate[d]" and "can move forward with their lives."
The investigative report, which was prepared by a private company called Greater Cincinnati Investigation, included interviews with 43 students and 16 chaperones and reviewing about 50 hours of internet activity.
The company declined to speak to BuzzFeed News, saying it does "not make any comments on [the] investigation."
But the report makes clear that investigators did not interview the Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, as they were repeatedly unable to reach him.
They were also not permitted to interview Nick Sandmann, the teen who stood face-to-face with Phillips, but did include his previous written statement in which he denied any wrongdoing.
According to the report, investigators did not find any evidence that the teens had made "offensive or racist" statements to Phillips or a group of Black Hebrew Israelites present during the confrontation, and were unable to verify that they had chanted "Build the wall."
However, one of the students did perform a "tomahawk chop" in Phillips's presence, the report states.
The MAGA hats many of the students were wearing were mostly purchased during the trip to DC for the March for Life, according to the report. Chaperones said some students had purchased hats in support of President Obama in previous years.
In one viral video, one student can be heard yelling "It's not rape if you enjoy it." According to the report, that student does not attend Covington Catholic.
Phillips did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News about the report.
In a statement on the diocese website, Bishop Roger Joseph Foys said the investigation "has demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial."
"The immediate world-wide reaction to the initial video led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality," Foys said.
"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening," Foys said. "Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory."
Foys "commend[ed]" what he called "surely a pro-life stance" of the teenagers during the incident, and said they "marched peacefully ... to further the cause of life."
The diocese published also published a January letter that was sent to parents about the investigation, in which it said it was its "hope and expectation that the results will exonerate [its] students so that they can move forward with their lives."
The diocese apologized in the January letter for its initial condemnation of the students' behavior, saying it was "bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely."
"We are sorry that this situation has caused such disruption in the lives of so many," Foys wrote. "We apologize to anyone who has been offended in any way by either of our statements which were made with good will based on the information we had."
Foys apologized in particular to Sandmann and his family and "all CovCath families who felt abandoned during this ordeal."
"This is not fair," Foys wrote. "It is just not."