10 Tragic Hazing Fatalities

Many groups and organizations practice some type of hazing as an initiation rite. Military units, gangs, and sports teams are just a few of the groups known to have inflicted hazing rituals on their prospective members. However, it is university fraternities that are most often associated with hazing.

Usually, hazing consists of a couple pranks or a few embarrassing activities to welcome new members. However, some inductees are subjected to abuse and torture, sometimes for days on end, and not everyone recovers from the torment. Each of the following young pledges succumbed from the injuries they received while they were hazed.

10Chun “Michael” Deng

Nineteen-year-old Chun Deng pledged Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American cultural fraternity. He and four other pledges were driven away from their campus for a fraternity event. The pledges were all forced to run a gauntlet, called the glass ceiling: they had to run through a group of their fraternity brothers while blindfolded and carrying a backpack weighed down with 20–30 pounds (9–13 kg) of sand.[1]

Deng fought against the fraternity brothers’ attacks, and he managed to kick one of the men who was beating him. The brothers became angry, and they started to hit Deng harder. One of them ran at Deng from 15 feet (4.5 m) away and plowed into Deng with his head lowered; others pushed Deng into the ground.

They did not stop until Deng was unconscious. The brothers carried Deng’s body into the house, laid him down, and put sugar on his lips to try to wake him up. Deng did not move. They called the fraternity president, who told them to hide everything showing the fraternity’s log. When they finished, they googled Deng’s symptoms, and they realized that he was not going to get better.

After an hour, three members took Deng to the hospital. The doctors found bruises across Deng’s head, cheeks, back, and thighs, and Deng had suffered severe trauma to his head, which had left him brain dead. His family took him off life support the following day.

Thirty people pleaded guilty to various charges, including assault, hazing, and conspiracy; they were sentenced to probation, ranging from 6 to 36 months. Three of the members pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and they were sentenced to 10–24 months in jail.

9Timothy Piazza

After Timothy Piazza was served 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes during a pledge initiation called “The Gauntlet,” he fell down a flight of stairs. Four fraternity brothers carried him upstairs. He was placed on a couch, and they threw beer on his face twice to wake him. Piazza did not respond. The brothers left him on the couch and walked away.

A newly initiated member, Kordel Davis, saw Piazza lying on the couch, and he screamed at the fraternity brothers for help. Davis told them that Piazza needed to go to the hospital because he could have a concussion. One of the brothers shoved Davis against the wall and said they had it under control.

Piazza’s condition worsened throughout the night. He got up and fell four more times, and he fell down another flight of stairs. Several hours later fraternity members found Piazza lying on the basement floor. They carried his unconscious body upstairs, placed him back on the couch, and tried to shake him awake.

They finally called 911 twelve hours after Piazza first fell down the stairs. Piazza was hospitalized, and he died the next day. He had suffered multiple brain injuries, hemorrhagic shock, and a lacerated spleen. The surgeon told Piazza’s family that he might have survived if he had received help earlier.[2]

8William Flowers

William Flowers was eager to join Zeta Beta Tau and become the first black member of the fraternity. He and five other pledges were told to meet at the beachfront area in front of the fraternity a little after midnight. When they arrived, they were ordered to dig graves in the beach sand and lie in them.[3] The fraternity members tossed handfuls of sand on the pledges as they dug their graves.

At around 1:15 a.m., Flowers laid in his five-foot deep hole, while the fraternity members stood on the ground above. The walls of the grave collapsed, and Flowers was buried in seconds. He managed to kick his legs clear; however, the students could not free him. Police and fireman arrived on the beach and eventually freed Flowers. More than 15 minutes had passed since the cave-in, and Flowers was unconscious.

He was brought to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

7Kenny Luong

Kenny Luong wanted to meet girls and make professional contacts, so he pledged Lambda Phi Epsilon. The inductees had to undergo more than ten weeks of pledging activities. They were forced to do close-fisted push-ups on gravel, carry a fellow pledge across their shoulders while kneeling on bricks, and jump and land on their chest without using their hands to break their fall.[4] Luong survived these tasks with bruised knuckles and a scraped chin.

The last event was the fraternity’s annual football game. The ten pledges faced off against approximately 40 fraternity members and alumni. They were not given any protective padding. The game lasted more than three hours, and it became more dangerous as time went by.

One of the players tackled Luong, and he fell to the ground. The players left him there for several minutes until someone noticed that Luong was spitting out mucous and convulsing. They attempted to revive him and failed. One of them called for an ambulance, and Luong was brought to the hospital. His brain had swelled so much that the doctors drilled holes in his skull to try to relieve the pressure, but Luong succumbed from his injuries.

His family sued the fraternity members and received $1.7 million.

6Walter Dean Jennings III

Freshman Walter Jennings decided to pledge Psi Epsilon Chi. The fraternity had been banned from his campus for underage drinking; however, several students and alumni kept the chapter going off campus. Jennings and several other pledges went to a former alumnus’s home to undergo a hazing ritual.

The ritual spanned ten days. The pledges were deprived of sleep for days, and they were repeatedly ordered to drink alcohol until they vomited, consume drinks that had been urinated in, and sit in a sweatbox after they exercised.[5] They were also forced to drink gallons of water that fraternity members poured though funnels.

After ten days, only Jennings and another pledge were left. The fraternity brothers continued to pour water down Jennings’s throat. Jennings drank so much water that his brain began to swell, and he fell unconscious. The brothers brought him to a hospital, and he later died there.

Eleven students were charged with crimes related to hazing; they accepted plea agreements and were sentenced to probation and community service.

5Armando Villa

Armando Villa and other pledges of Zeta Mu were blindfolded, and their shoes, keys, and cellphones were taken from them. They were given a little water and cheap shoes, and they were ordered to go on an 18-mile (29-km) hike up a large hill on a hot summer’s day.

The group made it up the peak without too many difficulties; although, Villa was miserable as his shoes were a size too small, and his feet were covered in blisters. The walk down the hill was difficult for the entire group. They ran out of water, and they became disoriented and dehydrated. Villa decided to run ahead to find water.

The pledges discovered Villa face down, unconscious and unresponsive. They managed to track down a ranger for help, and Villa was brought to the hospital. His temperature rose to 108.8 ℉ (42.6 ℃), and he died from hyperthermia and dehydration.[6]

4Horacio “Atio” Castillo III

Horacio Castillo III had spent a week running errands for members of the Aegis Juris fraternity, and all that stood between him and membership was the final rites. The ceremony kicked off at 2:00 a.m. with a prayer that nothing would go wrong, and then members began punching Castillo. More than ten of the fraternity brothers punched him for an hour; they stopped when his arms swelled and turned black and blue.[7] The members started slapping him with a wooden spatula to reduce the swelling.

They ordered Castillo to strip naked. He was told to bite a towel, and then one of the fraternity members began hitting Castillo with a paddle. Castillo stumbled on the fourth hit, and he collapsed on the fifth. The fraternity members sat him up, let him smell ammonia, and checked his pulse. The fraternity leader told the group to let Castillo relax. After 15–20 minutes he remained unconscious. They dropped melted candle wax on his chest and feet to see his response; Castillo did not move.

They brought him to the hospital, and he was declared dead on arrival. An autopsy showed he had died of a massive heart attack.

3Donnie Wade II

Donnie Wade and the other students who were pledging Phi Beta Sigma were ordered to run errands and purchase items for the fraternity brothers, undergo paddlings, exercise sessions, and keep to a strict bread-and-water diet.

Wade and seven other pledges were told to arrive at a high school track at 5:00 a.m. The pledges were forced to run nonstop for an hour, and Wade fell behind the group; the other pledges had to help him cross the finish line.

The pledges were then ordered to run up and down the bleachers, and they were told to do pushups and jumping jacks. When they finished, they were ordered to lie on their backs and hold their legs six inches in the air. Wade collapsed and told his trainer he was hurting; the trainer said Wade was “just tired,” and he laughed at the pledges who tried to help him.[8]

Wade passed out, and the group carried him to the car. They drove him to the hospital where Wade was pronounced dead. An autopsy found that he had died from a rare medical syndrome that can be triggered by strenuous exertion.

2Harrison Kowiak

Harrison Kowiak and another pledge were told to put on light-colored clothing and meet a fraternity brother at a dorm around 11:00 p.m. They were blindfolded and ordered to sit in the back of a truck, and they were brought to a field.

Their blindfolds were removed, and they were told to retrieve “sacred fraternity rocks”—a symbol of initiation to the Theta Chi fraternity—from the other side of the field.[9] In between the pledges and the rocks was a gauntlet of fraternity members, who were dressed in black. The brothers would shove, push, and tackle the pledges as they crossed the field.

Kowiak, who weighed 165 pounds (75 kg), ran across the field; he was tackled by fraternity brothers; some of them were football players who weighed more than 250 pounds (113 kg). After he was repeatedly knocked to the ground, he suffered a severe head injury. The fraternity members forced him to walk across the field until he collapsed.

They put him in a student’s car, and they drove him 20 minutes to the hospital. Kowiak died the next day from a brain hemorrhage. His family sued the school, and they received more than $4.6 million.

1Robert Champion

Robert Champion had spent much of his life dreaming about being a drum major at Florida A&M University. FAMU had one of the best marching bands in the country, and they had performed for presidents and during the Super Bowl.

Champion was able to join after two intense auditions. He played the clarinet so well that he quickly was appointed drum major: he was one of six students who carried batons and led the band. Champion was in line to become head drum major the next year.

However, a few people disliked Champion because he always upheld the rules. Many more disrespected him because he had not crossed Bus C. Each member of the band was expected to walk down a bus aisle while their teammates beat them.

On the night Champion finally faced the violent hazing ritual, two people crossed the bus before him. One was left vomiting, and the other fell unconscious. Champion stood at the front of the bus and removed his t-shirt. Someone yelled, “Send the n—– through,” and Champion started running. He fell halfway through, and the mob grabbed him by the legs and dragged him back to the front of the bus.

Champion tried to cross again. The mob pushed him into a seat, and Champion could not break free. One of the bandmembers braced himself on the seat backs and jumped up and down on Champion for 15 seconds.[10] Another band member helped Champion up. After five minutes, his fingertips touched the back wall.

Champion sank to the floor, and he started to panic. He could not breathe or see—even though his eyes were wide open. Champion passed out. His bandmates dragged him to the front of the bus and performed CPR. One of them called 911. An ambulance arrived and took Champion away but he died before they reached the hospital. His autopsy showed extensive, widespread contusions over his chest, right shoulder, arms, and back, and he had extensive bleeding in his tissues.

Fifteen band members were charged in his death. Fourteen received community service and probation; however, the “president” of Bus C was sentenced to 77 months in prison.


Written by Sam Dunsmore

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