Mothers of hazing victims speak out to Southeast Greeks
After losing both of their sons to hazing, Rae Ann Gruver and Evelyn Piazza have dedicated themselves to anti-hazing efforts across the nation.
Both women came to Southeast’s campus last week to share their story with more than 900 students involved in Greek life, as well as staff and faculty in the Academic Hall auditorium.
Gruver began by introducing her late son, Max. She explained how he had loved journalism and had been excited to join a fraternity so he could meet new people and gain leadership opportunities.
She dropped him off at Louisiana State University in the fall of 2017, not expecting this to be the last time she saw him alive. He died 29 days later due to hazing.
“It was the last time I was able to look at him in his eyes, tell him that I love him, that I will miss him, and that I was really proud of him,” Gruver told the Southeast audience.
Max was a pledge for Phi Delta Theta at LSU. On Sept. 13, 2017, the new pledges were required to attend “bible study” at the fraternity’s house on campus. The active members took them down into the basement where they were abused, quizzed and forced to consume massive amounts of alcohol.
The drink of choice that night was Diesel, 190-proof alcohol. In less than two hours Max was forced to consume 16 to 20 pulls, which Gruver said has been calculated to be about 32 ounces.
Police reports state his blood alcohol content was .495, six times over the limit to receive a ticket for driving under the influence. His new “brothers” told him to “sleep it off” and as a result, Max choked on his own vomit and died on the fraternity’s couch in the early hours of Sept. 14, 2017.
“Can you really call this a brotherhood,” Gruver asked the audience after describing the night of her son's death. “Subjecting pledges to life-threatening hazing rituals like this,” Gruver said after describing the night of her son’s death.”
Piazza then jumped in to talk about about her son Timothy, the son she lost to hazing — “Tim” as she liked to call him.
She explained how he was a dedicated student, boyfriend, employee and son. She talked about a three-day trip their family across the country to see the Rose Bowl over winter break that year , the last family vacation they would ever take together.
Timothy attended Penn State in Feb. of 2017, where he was studying to be a mechanical engineer so he could design prosthetics. He was planning to spend his life with his high school sweetheart. He decided to try out Greek life during his sophomore year for Beta Theta Pi fraternity on campus.
Piazza told the crowd the story of how her family had to learn that Timothy had been involved in a night of hazing, where they forced him to consume large amounts of alcohol.
Timothy fell multiple times while intoxicated; off the couch, down the stairs and onto the floor. The fraternity members called for medical assistance.
Upon arrival, it was discovered that Timothy had bleeding in his brain, a ruptured spleen, a punctured lung and needed a blood transfusion because 80% of his blood was in his abdomen.
He died after spending two days in the hospital due to high blood alcohol content of .40 and life-threatening injuries.
“You are literally playing Russian Roulette with someone’s life [when hazing],” Piazza said.
Since the deaths of their sons, Gruver and Piazza have worked to spread awareness about hazing. Both pushed to make hazing a felony conviction in their states and are members of PUSH, Parents United 2 Stop Hazing.
Missouri is one of the 12 states where hazing is a felony. The law was put into effect after former student Michael Davis died from a hazing incident at Southeast in 1994.
The mothers say that hazing happens every day, but it often goes unreported or it is only talked about on TV when someone gets hurt or dies. They call on students to end hazing so it doesn’t result in death, like it did with Max and Tim.
Freshman Gamma Phi Beta member Kenzi Koepp said she was angry after hearing the mothers’ stories.
“It angers me deep to my core that [organizations that haze] would even do that to anybody — that doesn’t make sense,” Koepp said. “That’s not brotherhood, that’s not sisterhood. It’s not right.”
Southeast has a strict zero tolerance hazing policy and holds an anti-hazing week every year in the fall. One of the events last year was a candlelight vigil in honor of Timothy Piazza and others who lost their lives to hazing.
Junior and member of Sigma Nu Douglas Gray said his fraternity has been against hazing from its beginning.
“I feel like it was very important to us because we were founded on anti-hazing and so it really is close to us,” Gray said.
Gruver and Piazza said they want students to feel empowered to do the right thing and to be leaders when it comes to ending hazing because it could mean saving someone’s life.
“Taking action takes courage,” Gruver said. “Speaking up will not be an easy thing to do but it will be the right choice, and it may even save someone's life.”