A UC Irvine freshman died over the weekend, resulting in the suspension and investigation of his fraternity, university officials said.
Noah Domingo, 18, died after a party at a home off-campus early Saturday, a tragedy that his family and friends fear was linked to drinking too much alcohol. The Orange County coroner’s office is conducting an autopsy and waiting for toxicology reports to officially determine his cause of death.
Domingo, who grew up in La Crescenta, followed his older sister to UC Irvine in the fall and chose to major in biology and join Greek life, just as she had, said their father, Dale Domingo. He said he did not want to speculate about what led to his son’s death, but he was worried about a problematic drinking culture at colleges.
“As a family, we’re hurting, but we’re also concerned — could it have been prevented? Is there something we, as a family, can do to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?” said Dale Domingo, who was driving Monday to UC Irvine to pick up his son’s belongings from his dorm room.
UC Irvine officials said they could not release details about Domingo’s death because of the investigation. But Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was suspended and ordered to immediately cease all activity, according to UC Irvine student affairs Vice Chancellor Edgar J. Dormitorio.
In an email to the campus community Monday, Dormitorio wrote that officials would collaborate with leaders in the Greek community to help support those affected by the death.
“We will also closely examine the larger context in which this tragedy occurred,” he wrote. “[We] will be working with the Greek community to help ensure that they are engaging in behaviors and practices that are in alignment with university policies and their own values.”
Dale Domingo, 47, said officials haven’t told him how his son died. He received a call Saturday morning asking him to drive to the campus, where he saw police officers and what appeared to be a crime scene.
“I knew already. I knew my son was gone,” he said.
Noah Domingo played basketball and football at Crescenta Valley High School, where he graduated in the spring. The youngest of three children, he wanted to pursue a career in sports medicine for basketball players, his father said.
“Unfortunately now, those are just dreams,” Dale Domingo said. “He’s probably one of the sweetest kids, one of the nicest kids — willing to help out with anything.”
Brianna Domingo, 20, said she helped her younger brother adjust to life at UC Irvine, where he sometimes struggled to juggle his coursework and the demands of his fraternity. Noah Domingo, who had a boyish smile and slicked-back dark hair, was just one year behind his sister in school.
She said that even last week, the beginning of the second quarter of classes, her brother was studying hard to get ahead in his schoolwork.
Last week was also his fraternity’s winter rush, with activities scheduled throughout the week to recruit members, according to a Facebook events page created by the fraternity’s UCI chapter. Noah Domingo marked on Facebook that he was interested in the event.
“We, Sigma Alpha Epsilon take pride in being the most selective fraternity at UC Irvine,” the event page reads.
On Friday night, Noah Domingo had been at a party at the house of a fraternity brother, said Ryan Lee, also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Lee, 19, left the party early, but Domingo stayed.
Police found Domingo about 9:30 a.m. Saturday in a bed in a house in Irvine’s Turtle Rock neighborhood, Irvine police spokeswoman Kim Mohr said. He was unresponsive, and officials declared him dead at the scene, she said.
Lee said he and Domingo met during the first quarter of college when Domingo rushed the fraternity. Sharing an interest in basketball and video games, they quickly became friends and planned to live together in the coming school year, Lee said.
“He was just good at everything. He was very smart, athletic,” the sophomore said.
Lee said that members of the Greek community were gathering Monday night to share stories and memories of their friend. The fraternity suspension, Lee said, was secondary to the tragic news about his close buddy.
“I’m not worried about all this fraternity stuff,” he said. “That’s how I feel, and I think that’s how a lot of other people feel too.”
Mike Sophir, chief executive officer of the national chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said the organization “was heartbroken by the death of our UCI brother.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and we appreciate the support the university and its staff have provided to students in this difficult time,” Sophir said in a statement.
At Crescenta Valley High School, Domingo’s alma mater, news of his death spread among students.
Kevin McCollum, who played football with the young man, said Domingo was known to stay away from drugs and alcohol and was “a straight-edge” student.
“He was a good team leader, fun, always had good vibes around him,” said McCollum, 18. “He was the kind of guy who already had his life figured out — by 11th grade, he knew he was going to go to UC Irvine.”
Ariel Welch, a junior at UC Irvine, said she heard the news of Domingo’s death from her roommate. She said she has never been to a frat party where men weren’t encouraging each other to drink more, a symptom of what she called “toxic masculinity.”
Last semester, she attended a frat party — hosted by a fraternity other than Sigma Alpha Epsilon — where the brothers were taking turns chugging a soup of several liquors, including vodka and tequila, she said. Meanwhile, the crowd chanted the fraternity’s name, she said.
“Somebody is going to be sick,” she remembered thinking to herself.
Essa Rasheed, also a junior, said that during a fraternity rush event he was urged to drink from a wine bladder filled with liquor. The brothers who recruited him counted down as he drank: “10, 9 ,8, 7, and 7, and 7, and 7, and 7, and 7…”
Rasheed stopped, but still came close to blacking out. He eventually decided not to pursue Greek life.
A transfer student, he said he was thankful he was a little older during that experience and better understood his limits. He can’t imagine how a kid just out of high school would handle that situation, he said.
“You have to be the type of person who can keep going at 7 forever,” Rasheed said.
But Paul Schilling, who coached Domingo for four years on his high school football team, said the stereotypical portrayals of fraternity life did not square with his memories of Domingo. In high school, he was a responsible kid, dedicated to his academics while also playing on two sports teams.
“Noah wasn’t one of those kids,” Schilling said. “He didn’t have time to be messing around.”