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Crime

Penn State President Vows Fraternity Chapter Will ‘Never’ Return to Campus After Hazing Death

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After 18 former Beta Theta Pi members were charged in connection with the hazing death of 19-year-old Penn State student Timothy Piazza, school president Eric Barron said the fraternity will be shut down at the school.

“Beta will never be back at Penn State,” Barron told Today on Wednesday morning, . “Never.”

His promise came with both sympathy for the Piazza’s family and a warning of the larger dangers of hazing across the country.

“I would say this is very clearly a national problem,” Barron said. “We’ve had tens of deaths across the nation. We’ve have universities — large, small, private, public — trying to deal with this problem.”

“No family should have to deal with this kind of tragedy,” he added.

Timothy Piazza (center) with his parents Evelyn Piazza and James Piazza
Patrick Carns via AP

Piazza died after taking part in a hazing ritual for the Alpha Upsilon chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity’s bid acceptance night on Feb. 2, authorities allege.

His death was caused by traumatic brain injuries and spleen damage after he consumed lethal amounts of alcohol and suffered multiple falls — including falling head-first down 15 basement steps.

Eight of Piazza’s former fraternity members have been charged with misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault — while 10 other former Beta Theta Pi members were charged with misdemeanor offenses that include hazing, recklessly endangering another person, tampering with evidence, furnishing alcohol to minors and unlawful acts relative to liquor.

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School Has Tried to Curb Hazing ‘For More than a Decade’

Centre Country, PA District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller alleged on Today that Beta Theta Pi members had a long history of similar alcohol-fueled behavior at Penn State.

“We had found at least on just the cell phones that they had been doing it for semester after semester after semester,” Miller said.

Barron, when asked if Penn State had turned a blind eye to behavior like that of Beta Theta Pi, stressed the university had been working to address the problem “for more than a decade.”

Eric Barron

He said the challenge Penn State and other colleges and universities face is the secretive nature of fraternities and sororities. Beta Theta Pi, for example, had an outward experience that was “incredibly positive,” he said.

“These brothers signed a pledge that if they were caught drinking they would be expelled,” Barron explained. “They had faculty advisors, they had a beautiful house, they had cameras, there were no external parties — we would have said this a model fraternity. But if behind closed doors a group of people are willing to — and together — keep something secret, not tell anyone? How is it that universities can manage to deal with a situation like that?”

Complicating matters is that fraternities and sororities are private institutions on private property, managed by private national organizations outside of university control.

County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller with Jim and Evelyn Piazza
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/AP

There is a solution — one that Barron has already taken with Beta Theta Pi.

“The only tool we have in the tool box is to take away the recognition for house,” he said. “The only tool that Penn State has to be effective is to say, ‘You are no longer a student organization.”

Barron vowed they would never back away from the issue. ‘We’re not going to give up until we solve the problem or shut down every house that’s out there,” he said.

Criminal charges against the ex-members of Beta Theta Pi were announced Friday, after a months-long grand jury investigation, according to the Centre County District Attorney’s Office.

No pleas were entered, and the accused were released on their own recognizance. The aggravated assault charge, a felony, carries a 10- to 20-year sentence upon conviction.

It was unclear Wednesday who among the 18 charged have retained attorneys who could comment on their behalf. PEOPLE’s efforts earlier this week to reach the accused directly were unsuccessful.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 17.