Police are investigating the death of a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman who was found dead early Saturday after a fraternity rush event involving alcohol, according to the student’s cousin.
The death of Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old student from Loudoun County, led to the suspension of VCU’s chapter of Delta Chi fraternity.
Oakes died early Saturday at an off-campus residence following a night of hazing as part of the Delta Chi fraternity, said Oakes’ cousin, Courtney White.
Oakes visited a house in the 100 block of West Clay Street on Friday night, where he was given a handle of Jack Daniels whiskey and told to drink, White said.
As part of the fraternity’s rush ceremonies, he was blindfolded, causing him to run into a tree and hit his head, said White, who has spoken with the police and people who attended the event. Onlookers helped him into the house, where he lay down on a couch on his side and was left to fall asleep, she said. In the morning, he was found lying face down, and police were called.
Officials from VCU, the Richmond Police Department and Delta Chi’s national organization said they were unable on Sunday evening to confirm or deny the details of White’s account.
Officers arrived at 9:16 a.m. and found him unresponsive, police said. Officials pronounced him dead at the scene. A medical examiner has not yet determined the cause or manner of death.
After Delta Chi headquarters learned of the incident on Saturday afternoon, it suspended the VCU chapter. By Sunday, VCU had done the same. The chapter’s social media accounts were shut down Sunday morning.
“The health and safety of our chapter communities is always a top priority for The Delta Chi Fraternity,” the fraternity’s headquarters said in a statement. “We encourage all members to cooperate with law enforcement investigative efforts and all directives of the university administration.”
VCU suspended the chapter from August 2018 to August 2019 for failing to comply with university requirements, a school spokesman said. VCU requires fraternal organizations to comply with policies for event registrations, attendance and academic performance.
A VCU student, meanwhile, started a Change.org petition calling for the permanent expulsion of the fraternity and the students involved. By 9 p.m. Sunday, it had garnered nearly 2,800 signatures.
White described Oakes as an only child who wanted a sense of belonging.
“He wanted people to like him and find his niche,” she said. “I think he thought he found them.
“He’s left a really big hole, and we love him so much, and we want to know what happened.”
She hopes neighbors will come forward to report what they saw and for nearby residents to check doorbell cameras in case something was caught on tape.
Oakes graduated from Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun. Though most of his classes were virtual, creating a different college experience than the one he wanted, he was enjoying college, said his grandmother, Sonja Oakes.
He was still figuring out what major to pursue and what career to follow. He considered marketing, perhaps sports marketing. He was a good student, despite the challenges of an online curriculum.
Every few weeks, he’d take the train home to Loudoun and visit with his grandfather, who was diagnosed with cancer. The two would speak from a distance on the porch of his grandfather’s house, Sonja Oakes said. He was an affectionate person, always willing to give a hug or kiss.
“Someone has to be held accountable for what happened,” Sonja Oakes said. “This doesn’t have to happen” to another student.
A GoFundMe was created for his family and has raised more than $24,000.
In VCU’s statement on Sunday, it called Oakes’ death a tragic loss for his family and members of the community. The school encourages any students in need of support to contact University Counseling Services at (804) 828-6200.
Anyone with information is asked to call Richmond police at (804) 646-3915.