A New York City college freshman was fatally injured during a fraternity hazing ritual that required blindfolded pledges wearing weighted bags to navigate a path while being repeatedly knocked to the ground, authorities said Wednesday.
Chun Hsien "Michael" Deng, a 19-year-old student at Baruch College suffered "major brain trauma" while he was at a rented home in Tunkhannock Township in Pennsylvania's Poconos with 20 other members of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity over the weekend, the Monroe County district attorney's office said.
Deng was injured in the yard "while partaking in a ritual," the DA said.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Harry Lewis told NBC News the pledges were told they had to get from one point to another with their eyes covered while carrying a load while others pushed and shoved them.
"It's very tragic," Lewis said.
The activity sounds eerily similar to hazing rituals, commonly known as "the gauntlet," that have been implicated in other deaths of college students in recent years, including one at Florida A&M University in 2011, and one at North Carolina's Lenoir-Rhyne University in 2008.
After Deng was knocked unconscious, his frat brothers brought him inside. Although he was unresponsive, there was "a considerable delay" before they drove him to the emergency room, Lewis said.
"Shortly after beginning treatment, physicians determined Deng suffered major brain trauma and he was placed on life support," the DA's office said in a press release.
Deng, who graduated from the elite Bronx High School of Science, died Monday morning.
Lewis said police are still waiting for a toxicology report but it does not appear alcohol was a major factor in the incident. No one has been charged but the investigation is continuing.
Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, said the pledging event was "unsanctioned" and that the school has a "zero-tolerance policy" for hazing.
"Baruch College had no knowledge of this event or that the fraternity was rushing a pledge class," it said in a statement. "Pi Delta Psi did not request permission nor were they approved by Baruch on this matter."
"Michael’s death is a deeply painful reminder that no individual should ever be put into a position where his or her personal safety is in jeopardy."
The national website for Pi Delta Psi, which describes itself as an Asian-American cultural fraternity, says it takes "hazing allegations very seriously."
"Hazing is a charged and stigmatized word within our community. It describes a practice that puts our new members in unnecessary mental and physical harm," the site says.
It's intake, or pledging process, "is rooted in a curriculum that familiarizes our members with Asian American history, contemporary social issues, and role models...While we do keep our ritual practices a secret, our general in-take process is outlined and available upon request. We also maintain a risk management document that outlines restricted practices and subsequent consequences."
At least 59 students have died in incidents involving fraternities since 2005, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News earlier this year. Six others were paralyzed.