The death of a New York City college freshman who was repeatedly tackled during a hazing challenge has been declared a homicide — setting the stage for possible charges against some of his fraternity brothers.
Michael Deng, 19, suffered major head trauma in the Dec. 8 ritual at Pi Delta Psi retreat in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. The Luzerne County Coroner's Office said Friday that the case has been classified as a homicide.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Harry Lewis said he will meet with the Monroe County district attorney's office next week to discuss the coroner's report and determine the next steps.
"A lot has been done to this point," he said of the two-month probe. "In a case like this where so many people were involved, we want to make sure every possible witness is located and interviewed."
Court documents have detailed how pledges wearing blindfolds and sand-filled packs were pushed and shoved in the freezing dark during an activity called "The Gauntlet."
A similar activity has 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.
At least 59 students have died in incidents involving fraternities since 2005, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News last year. Six others were paralyzed.
In Deng's case, participants allegedly waited an hour or more to take an "unresponsive" Deng to the hospital and then lied to police and tried to cover up the fact that it was a fraternity gathering.
Some frat members left the Poconos house before police could interview them. A number of them then retained lawyers. None have publicly commented on the incident.
"We want to make sure every possible witness is located and interviewed."
Baruch College has permanently banned the fraternity, which described itself as an Asian cultural organization. Pi Delta Psi claimed the retreat was unsanctioned and violated its no-hazing policy.
The frat did not immediately respond to requests for comments about the finding of homicide. In a statement, Baruch said it is conducting an internal review and cooperating with the Pennsylvania probe.
"Baruch College supports the ongoing efforts of Monroe County law enforcement to hold responsible those involved in the tragic death of Baruch student Michael Deng; a deeply painful reminder that no individual should ever be placed in a position where his or her personal safety is in jeopardy," it said.