4 years ago today, Ryan Abele, an 18-year-old college freshman, died after falling down a flight of stairs at the fraternity house that he was pledging to join. His death adds to the ever-growing list of hazing deaths at American sororities and fraternities.
There is not a lot of information on this case specifically, so I will be writing about some other college hazing deaths with this story.
On October 16, 2016, Ryan Abele was attending a ceremony at his new fraternity house, Sigma Nu. The ceremony was to assign the brothers of the fraternity their "Bigs" in the frat family. He was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno.
That night, according to an investigation by the University, the brothers consumed alcohol and marijuana illegally.
The morning after the ceremony, the pledge class was woken up at around 5:45 am to clean the house from the events of the night before. In the lawsuit Ryan's family filed against the fraternity, it is alleged that he was still extremely intoxicated while cleaning, and drunkenly fell down the stairs, hitting his head on the concrete in the basement.
When Ryan was admitted to the hospital at 7 am, his blood alcohol level was .3.
Ryan fought for his life in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks until he finally passed away on October 27, 2016 when his parents decided to take him off of life support and donate his organs. He had an emergency surgery immediately after his fall, but doctors never believed he would come back. He lived close to a week past the doctor's expectations.
In a blog post about their son's death, Ryan's parents claim that their son is dead because of "the action of idiots." They allege that he was given a 750 ml bottle of 100 proof rum, and that most of the 30 men in the pledge class vomited because of the alcohol. The president of the fraternity claimed this was their "tradition", and that he had went through it years earlier.
His parents remain unhappy with the lack of justice their son has received. While the University shut down Sigma Nu for the next 15 years, no one was held accountable for Ryan's death, including those who were initiating the events and the alumni members who attended. His father said that the lack of action sends the message that "hazing is tolerated" and that "furnishing alcohol to minors is ignored".
Ryan Abele was 18 years old when he died.
OTHER HAZING DEATHS
Because there isn't much additional information on Ryan's case, I'm going to write about some other shocking hazing death's on American campuses across the nation.
Chung Den was hoping to get a bid to Pi Delta Psi, and had made it to the final stage. He was 19 years old, attending Baruch College in New York City. The next stage in his pledge journey was "the Glass Ceiling" - a ritual where the pledges had to carry a backpack filled with 20lbs sand across a room while the other members beat him with a paddle. And he was blindfolded.
While crossing the room, he kicked one of the members, which enraged them. They started hitting and kicking him more and more. One charged into him, head butting him in the stomach. He fell down, and they continued to beat him until they realized something wasn't right. Instead of immediately jumping into action to help Chung, they initiated a coverup. They brought him to the hospital 3 hours later.
He was covered in bruises and had significant brain injuries when he arrived. He was eventually pronounced brain dead. Over 30 people were charged in the crime. At least 3 of his brothers were sentenced to 36 months in prison.
Robert Champion was a drum major at Florida A&M University, proving that not all hazing deaths are related to Greek life... though many are.
FAMU's marching band was known for its hazing process, and, Robert being Black, they also added a side of racism. The initiation? Walk the length of the bus while the other band members beat them. If they collapsed or threw up, they would have to start again. Before Robert started his trek across the bus, many members had already thrown up and suffered severe beatings.
The beating he endured was horrific. "Send the n***** through!" one of the band members shouted. He was nearly immediately pulled down into a seat and couldn't get up. A student began jumping on his torso for 15 seconds. He became unresponsive quickly. He was dragged off the bus and they tried to perform CPR, but it was too late. He was dead by the time the police were called.
His death was ruled a homicide, and 15 people were charged. The president of his bus was given 77 months in prison for the murder.
Matthew Carrington wished to join Chi Tau at Chico University to make friends and gain business connections, perhaps not knowing of their nasty reputation for their "Hell Week" hazing process. They spent almost an entire week hazing the new pledges, including drinking, sleep deprivation, and more.
But the last hours of his life were spent doing extreme exercises in a freezing cold basement while frat members dumped freezing water and blew fans on him. He was refused access to the bathroom after 5 hours.
After the torture continued, they forced him to down a gallon of water. This triggered a seizure. In fear, and attempt to cover up the death, the members delayed calling the police.
By the time he was taken to the hospital, it was hopeless. He died of hypothermia and water intoxication. Some of the members involved in his death were sentenced to prison time, and the fraternity was thankfully shut down.
James Lenaghan was a 19-year-old at the American International College in 1984. In order to join the Zeta Chis, he had to undergo a ritual entitled the "Spaghetti Ritual", which immediately reminds me of that one scene in the movie Se7en and makes me want to barf.
The ritual involved the pledges eating bowl after bowl of spaghetti and drowning it in red wine. They would throw up, and then continue until the brothers told him to stop. He eventually began begging for them to tell him to stop, but they didn't.
He eventually shit himself at the table. That was when they decided it was enough, and they dragged him into the bathtub to "sleep it off". But he would never wake up. During the autopsy, it was determined that his BAC was a whopping .48.
Tim Piazza's death is one of the most recent hazing deaths that made national news. He was pledging to join Beta Theta Pi at Penn State, which would turn out to be a fatal decision.
The ritual he needed to complete was "the Gauntlet", where he would have to drink from a bag of wine, a bottle of beer, and then a bottle of vodka, over and over. The excessive amount of alcohol mixed poorly with Tim's antidepressants, which seriously exacerbated the already dangerous amount of alcohol.
In his intoxication, he fell down the stairs and was knocked unconscious. One brother asked if they should get him medical attention, but he was ignored. They placed Tim on the couch. To try to wake him, they started to punch him, throw beer on him, and slap him. He eventually regained consciousness, tried to stand, and collapsed again. This happened multiple times, until his collapse led to him hitting his head yet again.
Eventually, when a brother found him on the floor breathing rapidly as his body temperature plummeted, they debated for 40 minutes before deciding he needed medical attention.
By the time he got to the hospital, his brain was so swollen that half his skull had to be removed. He had also ruptured his spleen, the injuries deemed "non-recoverable". He died, and multiple members of the fraternity were charged for his death.
So, why do people continue to join such organizations? What is so compelling about an organization that forces you to drink until you can't think straight and be put through physical hell? I guess there is some notion of brotherhood or togetherness, but honestly? I think sometimes the pledges are to blame.
Hear me out: I don't want to victim blame. I want to place blame on both fronts, depending on the circumstance. In the instances where the person was beaten, I don't place blame on the victim. Sure, Robert Champion knew that he might get injured or sick while walking the length of the bus, but it is still the fault of those who beat him to death. Same with Chung, who thought he just had to make it through some torturous activity. Was it dumb to partake? Sure. But they also expected their brothers not to murder them.
But the alcohol related ones? I don't think it is as cut and dry. Was it terrible for a group of people to "force" someone to drink until they had an unrecoverable BAC? Yes, especially if they were under the drinking age. But at the age of 18... I don't know, I just don't think you're "forced" to do anything. There is still some responsibility on your shoulders if you drink so much that it kills you. Right? I mean, sure, if they're force-feeding you alcohol or quite literally "forcing" you to drink, beating you if you don't, of course that isn't your fault. But so often, the story is just "they made him drink so much and he died!" and SOME of that accountability has to fall upon the person who continued drinking to fit in or join an organization.
People aren't allowed to abuse you to death. Being jumped on or beaten is not the victim's fault, even if he put himself in that situation. I think Matthew's situation is somewhere in between - in all reality, couldn't he have just stopped doing calisthenics? In some way, he decided it was worth it to continue. Tim Piazza's is murky of course, too. It was his decision to drink as much as he did, but absolutely not his fault that his brothers continually and repeatedly refused to get him medical attention.
But in the case of Ryan Abele... were the guys who coordinated the ritual idiots? Yes. Should the fraternity be shut down? Yes. Should they be held legally accountable because an 18-year-old drank an extreme amount of alcohol, even though they were the ones encouraging him? No, I don't think so. Perhaps discipline through the school for the event itself... but is his death on their hands?
Of course, I feel so terrible for those who have died this way, and wish their families peace and comfort as they grapple with the fact that their child died while trying to make connections at school. It is a horrific epidemic, and something I think many organizations have done a good job of eradicating. Hopefully, we just keep improving.