'The Bachelorette's' Erich Schwer 'Will Forever Regret' School Blackface Photo: 'Nothing but Ignorance'

Erich Schwer, one of Gabby Windey's finalists on The Bachelorette, came under fire after a yearbook photo of him wearing blackface surfaced on the internet

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Erich Schwer is apologizing after an old yearbook photo showing him wearing blackface surfaced on the internet.

Erich currently stars in season 19 of The Bachelorette and is vying for the final rose from Gabby Windey. On Monday, fans saw Gabby, 31, and Erich, 29, go on a Fantasy Suite date before he became the final man standing in competition for her heart.

Just a few days later, high school photos of Erich began circulating on the internet. In addition to a traditional yearbook photo, the viral Reddit post also showed an image of Erich wearing blackface and an afro wig — and it quickly garnered criticism.

On Thursday afternoon, Erich issued a statement on Instagram, where he apologized for his actions.

"I wholeheartedly apologize for the insensitive photo of me in Blackface from my high school yearbook that has been circulating," he captioned a photo of a blank black square, adding, "What I thought at the time was a representation of my love for Jimi Hendrix, was nothing but ignorance."

"I was naïve to the hurtful implications of my actions to the Black community and those closest to me, and will forever regret my offensive and damaging behavior," he continued." I am deeply ashamed by my actions and understand that my apology is only the first step in taking accountability."

Reps for The Bachelorette did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Following his Instagram post, many fans applauded Erich's apology in the comment section.

"All it takes is admittance and repentance. Keep at it, continue to be better!" wrote one follower, while another added, "The best thing you can do now is just prove you mean what you say about taking accountability. That's the correct way to apologize. I wish you luck"

Still, on Twitter, Erich faced lots of criticism as fans weighed in on the controversial image.

"I get Erich apologized for his blackface in high school but let's be honest if that photo never resurfaced he would have never apologized #bachelorette," one fan wrote.

Another added, "bachelorette is gonna be a joke if they bring up Nate and his two girlfriends and not Erich doing blackface on a YEARBOOK." (The comment was in reference to one of Gabby's exes, Nate Mitchell, who faced his own criticism this season about whether he withheld the fact that he has a daughter from an ex-girlfriend as well as speculation he previously dated two women at the same time.)

RELATED VIDEO: The Bachelorette: Erich Schwer's Dad Allan Died After Meeting Gabby Windey During Hometown Date

Other fans withdrew their previous support for Erich, with one tweeting, "Upon recent news of Erich doing blackface. I take it back. I can't support such nonsense."

Another wrote, "i lied. not supporting gabby and erich. and if she stays with him what him being exposed for doing blackface. she's in for a rude awakening"

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As fans know, Erich has been a frontrunner on The Bachelorette as he competed for Gabby's heart.

During the recent hometown dates episode, fans were introduced to Erich's father, Allan Schwer, who was battling cancer at the time. Erich explained to Gabby that Allan had been diagnosed with cancer years earlier and "was legitimately supposed to die like three times."

While Allan made it to the hometown date and "really liked Gabby," he never got to see his son's season of The Bachelorette air. Allan died at age 65 on July 6, just five days before season 19's premiere.

"Thankful for everything you've done for me," Erich posted on Instagram July 9. "We are gonna miss the hell out of you Big AL. I love you so much dad."

The Bachelorette season 19 finale airs Tuesday (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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