Classmates of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said during his time in prep school, Romney took part in a prank that involved cutting the hair of a new student who had found himself the target of ridicule "for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality."
The Romney campaign said the report, published in The Washington Post a day after President Obama announced his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage, seemed "exaggerated" and said Romney had no recollection of participating in the prank.
But Democrats quickly seized on the report, with the Democratic National Committee firing the story to reporters with the tagline: "Key Point: 'It was vicious.' "
According to Matthew Friedemann, a close friend of Romney at the time, an "incensed" Romney said, "He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”
"A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors," the Post report continues.
The newspaper interviewed five students with knowledge of the incident, each of whom independently verified the account.
“It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Thomas Buford, a retired prosecutor and the school's wrestling champion. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.”
Other students recalled the incident as "a hack job" and expressed regret over the incident.
Lauber passed away in 2004, although David Seed, a classmate and retired school principal, said that he crossed paths with him in the 1990s during a layover at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Seed said that decades later, Lauber described the incident as "horrible" and that the instance of bullying was "something I have thought about a lot since then."
The Romney campaign did not make the candidate available for an interview with the newspaper, although spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement that the allegation did not ring true.
“Anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body,” Saul said. “The stories of 50 years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Gov. Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”
On Wednesday, Romney discussed the president's decision to publicly support same-sex marriage, saying he disagreed but understood the sensitivity of the subject.
"This is a very tender and sensitive topic as are many social issues, but I have the same views I've had since running for office," Romney said.