Rangers Want Charges Pressed in Cross Burning

Times Staff Writer

Park rangers who discovered about 30 University of San Diego fraternity members participating in a cross-burning ritual last weekend at Torrey Pines State Reserve said Tuesday that they plan to recommend prosecution of the group’s leaders.

“We will recommend to the city attorney that one or two of the fraternity members who emerged as the leaders, or were most responsible for the act, be prosecuted,” said Jim Van Schmus, chief ranger for the reserve. The youths would probably face misdemeanor charges of starting an illegal fire.

Officials at USD have also spoken out against the actions of Sigma Chi fraternity and have promised to take disciplinary measures.


According to authorities, a group of about 30 fraternity men, including full members and initiates, entered the reserve late Saturday night and planted a wooden cross on an isolated bluff overlooking the beach.

Then, as part of an initiation rite, they ignited the cross, which was wrapped in bedding material drenched with gasoline.

Racial Motivation Denied

Although university leaders said they were disturbed by the cross-burning and called the act “terribly insensitive,” they said the burning was not racially motivated.

“We have not investigated the event sufficiently, so it’s a little premature to say what we will do exactly,” said Thomas Burke, vice president of student affairs. “Of course, we have ordered them, as well as other campus groups, not to do anything like this again.”

Burke said the university will take action either against individuals or the entire organization. Disciplinary measures could range from a simple warning to suspension, Burke added.

“We’re sorry that it happened, and it was a stupid act on their part, but I don’t think they did it intending to offend members of our community,” Burke said. “It was unfortunate and insensitive because such an act not only has satanic undertones, but it is offensive racially and ethnically. I think they’re embarrassed, and they ought to be.”


In addition, Burke said the university will hold special workshops for campus groups beginning next fall, warning against such unacceptable acts. The university already conducts similar workshops, for example, against hazing.

Repeated attempts to reach Sigma Chi members were unsuccessful. After the incident, however, fraternity members denied to authorities that their ritual was racially motivated or cult-linked.

Instead, they told authorities the rite--based on Emperor Constantine and his conversion to Christianity--is an initiation ritual that symbolically rids initiates of their faults, making them worthy of membership. During the rite, initiates make a list of their faults and then burn the lists in the cross’ fire.

During the last two years, rangers at Torrey Pines have found the remains of four other cross-burnings, Van Schmus said.

“Just like this one, the other four burnings coincided with nights that had full moons,” Van Schmus said. “We were concerned because we didn’t know who was behind them. We didn’t know whether it was the Klan or a satanic cult. We weren’t expecting to find nicely scrubbed college kids.”

Fraternity members, however, have denied responsibility for the other cross-burnings, authorities said.