(CNN) – Three white University of Mississippi students have been suspended from Kappa Alpha fraternity after a photo showing them posing with guns in front of a sign memorializing Emmett Till surfaced earlier this week.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is also reportedly investigating. The sign, which is located outside Glendora, Mississippi, commemorates the murder of Till, a 14-year-old African American who was tortured and killed in 1955 after accusations that he flirted with a white woman.
He was shot in the head and thrown into the Tallahatchie River by two white men. His death became an important catalyst in the civil rights movement.
The students in the photo, which was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, were standing beside the sign. The sign appears to be riddled with bullet holes, but it’s unclear whether the students were connected to the damage.
Deborah Watts, Emmett Till’s cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said she saw the photo Thursday and doesn’t know who may have vandalized the sign.
“The unfortunate thing is that is not surprising because of just where we are in our country today,” Watts told CNN on Friday. “We are experiencing, I think, an uptick in terms of hatred, violence and people feeling emboldened to take that kind of action.”
The image was posted to the private Instagram account of one of the students in March, with the message “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met,” the news outlets reported.
“When I think about that photo — it’s a motivator,” Watts said. “It means our work is more important today than it has ever been.”
A spokesman for the University of Mississippi on Friday identified two of the students in the photo.
One of them, Ben LeClere, is currently enrolled at the school as a junior and is majoring in managerial finance, said Rod Guajardo, the university’s spokesman. The second, John Lowe, is not currently enrolled at the school.
The status and identity of the third student remains unclear.
CNN is attempting to reach the students for comment. Watts said Till’s relatives and members of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation want to speak with the students.
“We’d love to speak with them and have an opportunity to share our story and talk about what happened in the past, how it affects our present and how we should not repeat that past so it doesn’t affect the future,” Watts said.