Western New Jersey

'Have the conversation:' Parents pen open letter one year after frat pledge's death

The parents of a Penn State student who died after a fraternity hazing event are telling parents to think twice before letting their student join Greek life.

Almost a year after the tragic death of their son, Jim and Evelyn Piazza penned an open letter to parents of college students thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority.

Timothy Piazza, 19, died February 4th, 2017 from injuries sustained during what investigators call an alcohol-fueled pledging event at a Penn State fraternity.

Twenty-six former members of now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi are accused of various offenses related to his death. Their charges range from alcohol offenses to aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter.

Piazza had fallen several times after a night of drinking and alleged hazing.

"It is important to talk openly about what has transpired this past year, and over many years, and to remind your children that they are important to you," the Hunterdon County couple said in the letter, published in the Daily Collegian, Penn State's student-run newspaper.

Penn State University President Eric Barron also wrote a letter outlining the changes the school has made to the Greek life system on campus in the year since Piazza's death.

Barron's letter was published on Penn State's website.

Read the entirety of the Piazzas' letter below:

Dear Parents:

One year ago today, on February 2, 2017, our son Tim was excited and anxious to begin his initiation into the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity at Penn State University. Of the three fraternity bids he received, he accepted Beta Theta Pi. They were self-described as an alcohol-free, hazing-free fraternity and allegedly placed a high emphasis on academics. He felt like they shared his values. Two days later, on February 4, 2017, we watched as our son was taken off life support at Hershey Medical Center as a result of the injuries he sustained in connection with the egregious hazing he experienced on that night of initiation and the self-preservation on the part of numerous fraternity members. The cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries, including a fractured skull, lacerated spleen and a severe brain bleed. He just wanted to join an organization. How could this happen?

The nation, and much of the world, one year later knows that Timothy J. Piazza, our amazing, caring, good hearted 19-year-old son – the strapping red head from western New Jersey known for his love of life and desire to help those in need - was the victim of violent, organized fraternity hazing and brutal neglect. That’s not on his death certificate, but that’s what we get to live with every day.

Tim’s death was a slow, painful passing that was graphically captured on videotape by the fraternity’s unmonitored security system. To this day we have not watched the videotapes when they have been played in the preliminary hearing court proceedings, but we have urged Penn State officials, including the President and his Board of Trustees, to do so (that has yet to happen). Eventually, it is our hope that a jury will have the opportunity to watch the videos (including the recovered basement video) and hear all of the evidence in the criminal case brought by prosecutors after an extensive Centre County Grand Jury investigation. Despite our never-ending sorrow and pain, we have faith in the justice system and hope for the day when all those responsible for Tim’s death will be held accountable.

We also continue to hope and pray that once and for all – working with other advocate-parents - we can help bring an end to senseless, preventable hazing deaths in America. Tragically, Tim’s death was the first hazing fatality in 2017, but by no means was it the last. We now belong to a national club no parent should ever aspire to join. On February 23 and 24 we, along with other parents who have lost children to hazing, will come together for our inaugural conference in Greenville, South Carolina.

The media and other parents repeatedly ask us what to tell their children that are thinking of joining a fraternity or a sorority. First, we urge them to have the conversation. We discussed pledging with Tim and he assured us that if he joined a fraternity, he would pick the right one. Tim and the other pledges were deceived and a darker side of that fraternity was revealed, as forced alcohol-fueled hazing intensified in the ‘dry’ house run by ‘Men of Principle’.

Never would Tim think his soon to be “brothers” would abuse him and then leave him to die. It is important to talk openly about what has transpired this past year, and over many years, and to remind your children that they are important to you. Tell them to take nothing at face value, be cautious, guard against peer pressure. And should they decide to pledge, pledge as a group. Make sure somebody your son or daughter trusts always has their back. If at any time they are concerned for their safety or the safety of others, they need to follow their instincts and leave before it’s too late and call for help. 

It is too late for Tim, but it is not too late for your son or daughter.

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