The West Virginia University community has instituted a moratorium on all Greek activities following the death of freshman Nolan Burch at a fraternity house. The school is in mourning over the loss of one of its students just two months after the start of the school year, and questions are being raised about whether hazing played a part in his death.
Burch died Friday after suffering from what WVU has described as a "catastrophic medical emergency" Wednesday at the university's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, for which he was pledging to become a member, WGRZ reported. The school's dean of students, Corey Farris, said the moratoriun on Greek events could last the remainder of the semester as authorities work to discover what caused Burch's death.
Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said Friday that another student was also treated for alcohol consumption Wednesday evening, and suggested that Burch had consumed alcohol that night, according to West Virginia Metro News.
“Obviously he’s not old enough to buy alcohol, so who gave it to him? Who provided it?” Preston said, according to the news outlet, adding later, "“Why do you let somebody get so drunk that they can’t stand up? There’s nothing fun about that. It’s dangerous. ... It’s not the alcohol use, it’s the alcohol abuse.”
The question is an important one, as hazing, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault remain major safety concerns for fraternities and sororities across the country, as well as the universities that allow them to operate on campus.
Snippets of evidence about the last days of Burch's life have emerged that suggest he had been partaking in the school's party scene, and some students and advisers have suggested that hazing was a factor in his death.
Burch's last tweet Wednesday afternoon seemed to eerily foreshadow his death:
It's about to be a very eventful night to say the least
— Nolan Burch (@NolanBurch9) Nov. 12, 2014
And just last week he tweeted a message that seems to give weight to the idea that alcohol may have been a factor:
— Nolan Burch (@NolanBurch9) Nov. 7, 2014
Social media has been rife with rumors about what led to Burch's death, but the facts suggest a pattern of ill behavior at WVU's Kappa Sigma chapter. The national Kappa Sigma organization issued a statement that was obtained by WDTV on Friday stating that the WVU chapter had been in trouble in the past, but that the university was only informed of the national organization's concern earlier this week:
"[T]he operations of this chapter have been suspended since mid-October, due to previous, unrelated violations of Kappa Sigma's Code of Conduct," the statement said. "Subsequently, the chapter and school were notified on Monday, Nov. 10, prior to the event in question, that the group's charter had been withdrawn and its operations had been closed."
A number of West Virginia University students and others connected to the school have suggested via social media that hazing was to blame for Burch's death, often organizing using the hashtags #PrayersforNolan and #boys:
Just proof hazing can affect anyone. May he rest in peace. Prayers go out to his family❤️ #PrayersforNolan
— Ashley♡ (@ashweybugg) Nov. 14, 2014
— Lee Cochran (@Cochleah) Nov. 14, 2014
So sad to hear about what happened at WVU. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Might be cliché but it's true #PrayersforNolan
— bshut. (@5Oshadesofcray_) Nov. 14, 2014
But for now, the events of Wednesday night remain unknown. WVU's school newspaper, the Daily Athenium, suggested in a tweet that things got "out of hand" at a Kappa Sigma pledge event Wednesday:
— The Daily Athenaeum (@DailyAthenaeum) Nov. 14, 2014
The school paper also reported that Morgantown police said in a statement that when they responded to the scene at the frat house, Burch had no pulse and was not breathing, and that the first officer to arrive performed CPR on him. Burch was taken to a hospital and was on life support in intensive care until his death Friday.
Members of other fraternities, like WVU Alpha Sigma Phi chapter member Matt Carter, say they don't know what happened that night.
"Personally, I'm deeply saddened,“ Carter told the Post-Gazette. ”I wasn't aware of the actions that happened there that night. I was shocked."
WVU, which ranked fourth on the Princeton Review's "Top Party Schools List" for both 2014 and 2015, and took first place on the 2013 list, has had a series of hazing and alcohol-related incidents in its fraternity and sorority system in recent years.
Last winter, two students were arrested and charged with hazing following an incident at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, WBOY reported at the time. One of the students was also charged with battery in connection with the incident. The university went on to suspend the frat for five semesters following the Nov. 15, 2013, incident, which left a 19-year-old man injured.
And on Nov. 6, the university's Sigma Chi frat found itself in trouble with the law when 19 of the fraternity's members were arrested and charged with creating a disturbance, according to TheDPost.com, a website operated by the West Virginia Newspaper Publishing Company.