But tragically, it wasn’t the last.
In fact, three more college fraternity pledges died across the country last year, marking one of the worst years in recent memory for hazing deaths.
As the one-year anniversary of the death of Timothy Piazza approaches, his parents announced they are joining forces with other parents who have lost children in hazing incidents for a national conference later this month.
“We now belong to a national club no parent should ever aspire to join,” Jim and Evelyn Piazza wrote in an open letter distributed Wednesday night. “It is too late for Tim, but it is not too late for your son or daughter.”
Families of hazing victims hope their unified voices can end the “business as usual” mindset that says this madness cannot be stopped, according to a news release for the inaugural conference Feb. 23 and 24 in Greenville, S.C.
A mother who lost her son to hazing at Clemson University in 2014 helped to organize the event, according to Jim Piazza.
Penn State officials also released a letter this week, noting the upcoming Feb. 4 anniversary of Piazza’s death and announcing that they would participate in a conference of Big Ten officials in April to discuss the future of Greek life at member universities.
Piazza suffered mortal injuries Feb. 2, 2017 after falling down a set of stairs inside the Beta Theta Pi house at Penn State. He had been served 18 drinks in 82 minutes during an alcohol-chugging obstacle course known as “the gauntlet” and an ensuing party where brothers repeatedly gave drinks to pledges.
After Piazza, 19, was injured, no one called for help for nearly 12 hours, according to court records, and fraternity brothers later deleted text messages and deleted basement surveillance video. He later died at a hospital.
The situation bore eerily similarities to the Nov. 3 death of Andrew Coffey after attending a pledge party for Pi Kappa Phi at Florida State University. He was reportedly given a bottle of bourbon by his “big brother,” which he consumed before passing out on a couch while others continued to play pool.
The next morning, Coffey had no pulse. A fellow pledge called and sent text messages to five fraternity members before calling 911, according to a grand jury presentment.
The 20-year-old Coffey had a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of his autopsy.
More than half of the fraternity members later refused to be interviewed by police, including seven out of nine members of the executive council, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Parents of hazing victims across the country plan to band together later this month is to “support one another, open dialogue, and formulate a plan to work closely with leaders in government and universities to help change the current culture on American campuses,” according to a news release.
The group also intends to develop strategies to strengthen hazing laws on both the state and federal levels, to seek justice for victim’s families and hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable for their actions.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza wrote in their open letter that their son chose the Beta Theta Pi house, advertised as alcohol-free, over two others because he believed they shared his values.
“Never would Tim think his soon to be “brothers” would abuse him and then leave him to die,” the letter said. “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 Piazzas also advised parents to talk to their college-aged students about being cautious, taking nothing at face-value and guarding against peer pressure.
“And should they decide to pledge, pledge as a group,” the Piazzas advised. “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.”
In Timothy Piazza’s case, he did not know other pledges or fraternity brothers well before he joined. None of them attended his funeral services.
Much of Timothy Piazza’s final agonizing night inside the Beta house was recorded on video and Piazza’s parents want Penn State trustees and President Eric Barron to watch the entire video, hoping it will strengthen their resolve to change Greek culture.
But “that has yet to happen” The Piazzas said in their open letter.
On Thursday, university officials said Barron and the board leadership “are willing to watch the video, with heavy hearts, both to respect the Piazza’s wishes and determine whether anything in it will aid our continued efforts, should it be made available to us.”
The former prosecutor handling the case said last year she would not share the video with university officials now that a criminal case had been launched.
The criminal case against 26 fraternity brothers, however, now is on hold as the Attorney General’s office reviews it. The new Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna referred the case to the AG’s office this year, citing a conflict of interest.
Penn State officials this week cited a series of changes they had implemented since Piazza’s death, including the complete takeover of control of the Greek system.
While the changes have made a difference, Barron wrote in a letter, “significant problems remain.”
The fact that 13 other Greek organizations at Penn State have received multi-year suspensions for safety violations shows the university “means business,” Barron said, but it also demonstrates that “many students have ignored the call for behavior change and fallen short of our values and expectations.”
Barron also called on parents and Greek alumni to provide a higher level of support to their chapters through guidance and mentoring.
“Sadly,” Baron said, “we found in our monitoring that parents of students in some chapters helped students violate the law and University rules against alcohol consumption.”
The entire letters from the Piazza and Barron are included below.