Chen "Michael" Deng traveled with a group of as many as 30 friends to a sparsely populated area of Pennsylvania for a weekend of what was supposed to be fraternal bonding. It cost him his life, officials say.
Deng, 19, a freshman at Baruch College in Manhattan, was with three other pledges of his school's chapter of Pi Delta Psi fraternity at a rented house in Tunkhannock Township in the Poconos, some 75 miles west of New York. There the pledges were hazed, officials said.
"He was blindfolded, in the dark, carrying some weight and asked to get from point to point while several of his brothers were striking, tackling, punching and pushing him," Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Harry Lewis told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. Such hazing rituals have led to deaths, including at Florida A&M University in 2011.
"Even one death is too many," Lewis said. "These people are trying to join your organization. No one's tradition -- no one's rituals -- are worth a death."
Lewis said police were still investigating and would meet with prosecutors next week to discuss what, if any charges, would be brought.
It was early Sunday morning when the hazing ritual began, according to officials. Deng apparently suffered a head injury in the yard during the ceremony and was knocked unconscious.
The group brought him inside the house but he remained unresponsive. "After some time, members of the fraternity drove him to the emergency room in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County," according to a statement from the Monroe County District Attorney's office.
"Shortly after beginning treatment, physicians determined Deng suffered major brain trauma and he was placed on life support," the DA's office said. Deng died Monday morning.
Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, said the pledging event was "unsanctioned" and that the school had a "zero-tolerance policy" for hazing.
"Michael's death is a deeply painful reminder that no individual should ever be put into a position where his or her personal safety is in jeopardy," the school said.
Hazing is often banned and officially discouraged, yet it continues to be part of the college scene. At least 59 students have died in incidents involving fraternities since 2005, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News earlier this year. Six others were paralyzed.