While college freshman Mike Deng lay brain dead after a hazing ritual gone wrong last weekend, his Pi Delta Psi "big brother" made a call from the hospital — telling others to get rid of anything that would identify them as fraternity members, court documents allege.
The apparent coverup attempt was detailed in a search warrant affidavit filed by police, who ultimately seized a heap of frat regalia, along with suspected marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and paddles, from a house in the Poconos rented by the New York City students.
That's where, they say, Deng was repeatedly tackled running a gauntlet blindfolded and carrying a sand-filled backpack in the freezing dark during a fraternity gathering.
The papers say that the three Baruch College students who finally took Deng, 19, to the hospital early Sunday — more than an hour after he was knocked unconscious — initially claimed the finance major was wrestling in the snow, fell backward and hit his head.
During a second grilling, Sheldon Wong, described as the pledge educator, "showed great remorse and refused to provide information about the ritual and the incident," police wrote. Deng's big pledge brother, Charles Lai, said he was sleeping and didn't see what happened, they said.
Upon further questioning, though, Lai said he was taking part in the ritual known as The Gauntlet, telling cops that Deng was supposed to try to reach him "while other fraternity brothers physically prevent that from happening," the affidavit says.
Wong then gave details of the ritual, as well, "and states Deng was pushed but didn't see who did it."
The detective wrote that he also learned through interviews "that while at the hospital [Lai] made a phone call, using his cellular phone, to a male at the residence and told him to dispose of all fraternity memorabilia and items."
Efforts to reach Lai and Wong, along with members of the national board of Pi Delta Psi, were unsuccessful.
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No one has been charged in connection with Deng's death, but prosecutors and police say it's likely someone will be.
Some fraternity members left the rented house and headed back to Baruch in Manhattan, and now authorities are appealing for them to come forward as they gather more information about the ritual.
"We are looking for the truth. The family deserves that. We are asking people to do the right thing," Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Harry Lewis told NBC News.
The Luzerne County Coroner's Office said Friday that an autopsy determined Deng, whose given name is Chun Hsien but went by Mike, died from "closed head injuries due to blunt force trauma," the coroner's office said Friday.
After he was injured, his frat brothers did not immediately call for help, police said. Instead, "Deng was carried inside and placed by a fire and continued to be unresponsive," the affidavit said.
His schoolmates changed his wet clothes and Googled his symptoms and found the closest hospital. Still, police said, they did not call 911 but took him by private car to Geisinger Hospital in Danville, Pa.
More than an hour, possibly two hours elapsed between the time he was injured and when he got medical attention, police said.
Doctors told investigators that Deng was brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. He died Monday morning.
Baruch on Friday suspended the campus rights of the fraternity and is weighing disciplinary action against the students involved. It said it did not know about the gathering and was unaware the frat was rushing a pledge class.
A statement issued by the national Pi Delta Psi on Thursday that the gauntlet hazing was "strictly prohibited" by the organization and the gathering was "unsanctioned."
"Our early understanding is that this incident occurred at an unsanctioned event that was strictly prohibited by our organization,"
"As a result of this incident we are immediately suspending all new member education nationwide until further notice," Andy Meng, national president of the fraternity, said in the statement.
Meng did not respond to further requests for comment.
First published December 13 2013, 6:24 PM