HERNDON — Ten young men slowly tugged the black casket from the back of a hearse and carried it down a short hill to its final resting place.
Wearing Washington Wizards and San Francisco 49ers jerseys over their dress shirts, the pallbearers walked in short, careful steps as they carried their friend, Adam Oakes.
They stopped at a grave overlooking a suburban hillside and giant oak trees, set down the casket and stepped aside. Pastor Brian Bales held a Bible in his right hand.
“We know this is not really goodbye,” Bales began. “This is, as we said before, until we meet again.”
Oakes, 19, was laid to rest Monday, nine days after he was found dead following a Virginia Commonwealth University fraternity party. His family said hazing played a significant role in his death. The freshman had received a bid to the Delta Chi fraternity, and the night before his death, he attended a party in which he would receive his “big brother.”
Partygoers handed him a large bottle of whiskey and told him to drink, his family said. Authorities found him dead the next morning. After suspending Delta Chi, VCU called for an investigation of all Greek life on campus.
On Monday, his family and friends gathered at a church in Ashburn to attend the funeral for Oakes, whom they remembered as a sports fanatic and a devoted son and grandson. They also asked for changes to fraternity and sorority culture.
Courtney White, Oakes’ cousin, called for universities to put an end to hazing. One week after Oakes’ death, a Bowling Green State University sophomore, Stone Foltz, died after attending a fraternity party, awash in alcohol, at the Ohio school. Police are investigating if hazing played a role in Foltz’s death.
“Changes have to be made now,” White said.
Max Turner, who was friends with Oakes, started a GoFundMe to help cover funeral costs and has raised $44,000. The fundraiser exceeded the cost of the funeral, White said, and the additional money will help start a scholarship for a student at Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun County where Oakes attended.
The family intends to implement a foundation to help students transition from high school to college, White said, adding that freshmen are too young to pledge fraternities.
“His death was senseless and preventable,” she said.
Oakes was the kind of kid who was gentle and devoted to his family, White told the audience. When his friends visited Myrtle Beach, S.C., last summer for Beach Week, Oakes wanted to go, too. But going to the beach meant potentially bringing the coronavirus to his mother, Linda, who has asthma, and his elderly grandmother.
In the end, Oakes decided to be with his family, instead.
When he was 10 years old, he played tackle football for the Lower Loudoun Boys’ Football League. Playing defense, Oakes once tackled the ball carrier and put a good hit on him. The other boy didn’t immediately get up, so Oakes apologized and stood there to make sure his friend was OK.
“I’ll see you in math class tomorrow,” he told the opposing player as he was helped off the field.
Jimmy Norris told the congregation that he had a problem with anxiety in middle school. Then he met Oakes, who immediately treated him like they had been friends for years. Norris didn’t have to sit alone at lunch anymore.
Norris, who saw Oakes a week before his death, dropped him off and said, “Stay safe. I love you dude” as Oakes exited the car. After driving away, Norris regretted not parking the car, stepping outside and giving his friend a big bear hug. “I’ll see him in a few months,” he decided as kept driving.
Not only did Oakes love sports, he studied them religiously, too. He enjoyed getting into debates, said his friend Ben Davis. At VCU, he considered a career in sports marketing. As a youngster, he played football, baseball and basketball.
“He set the meanest screens,” Norris said.
Oakes had a group of friends from Potomac Falls that he called “the boys.” On Monday, the boys served as his pallbearers, and each one dressed in a basketball or football jersey in honor of Oakes’ love of sports.