Greek life at West Virginia University should be bustling this time of year, but the row of fraternities and sororities has been silenced with the death of an 18-year-old freshman on Friday. Students clung to one another at a somber candlelight vigil in honor of Nolan Burch, who was hospitalized after getting injured at a fraternity house around midnight Wednesday, police said.
WVU, located in the hilly terrain of Morgantown, West Virginia, has temporarily suspended all of its Greek activities in response — effectively shutting down its 28 fraternities and sororities.
"People want to mourn his death and respect who he was. He was a good kid," said vigil attendee Marc Flickinger, a freshman who lives in the same residence hall as Burch and shared the same friends.
"I spoke to his roommate last night, he was really shaken up," Flickinger added. "It was really tough on him. ... I think it hits home with everyone because (Burch) did have a lot of friends here and that easily could have been one of my friends."
Police haven’t detailed the circumstances surrounding the death of Burch, who is from the Buffalo, New York, area, or whether hazing or alcohol might have been involved. When police arrived at the Kappa Sigma fraternity, they said they found a man performing CPR on Burch, who was unconscious and lying on the floor. The Morgantown police, the school and the fraternity’s national chapter said they are still investigating.
On a haunting, final post to Twitter before Wednesday's incident, Burch wrote: "It's about to be a very eventful night to say the least."
As the campus mourns, details have emerged that the Kappa Sigma event — which sources tell NBC News was pledge-related — wasn’t sanctioned by the national fraternity, and the chapter had been suspended. Kappa Sigma said in a statement that its WVU chapter had been suspended since mid-October because of "previous, unrelated violations" with the fraternity’s code of conduct. They didn’t say what violation occurred.
Both the chapter and the school were notified Monday — prior to Wednesday’s tragedy — that the group’s charter had been withdrawn and its operations were closed, Kappa Sigma said.
“I wish I would’ve went down there to see him before everything happened. But it was heartbreaking when I found out.”
In a response, a university spokeswoman confirmed that WVU’s Office of Student Activities had been notified verbally that the Kappa Sigma group’s charter was revoked. "WVU’s office then communicated with the chapter by letter on Wednesday (Nov. 12) that the University had been made aware of the revocation and that they were no longer a recognized student group at the institution," according to the statement.
In addition to Wednesday’s incident, school officials also cited another reason for the temporary suspension of all Greek activities: On Nov. 6, 19 pledges of another fraternity, Sigma Chi, were arrested or cited for underage possession of alcohol following rioting on the street. That fraternity was also suspended.
"The action to halt fraternity and sorority activities while these matters are being reviewed is being done with the well-being and safety of our students in mind. That is — and must always be — our foremost priority," Dean of Students Corey Farris said in a statement.
Students earlier Friday were divided over the move, with some finding it too drastic a step.
"I think the university was a little quick to shut down all of Greek life over something happening to one person," said junior Vincent Naclerio. "It’s tragic, but everyone else is mourning what’s going on. I don’t think it’s the right move — maybe a little later."
But other students said now is the right time for reflection, and backed the school's move. "I think the university does need to send a message because it’s a matter of life and death," said junior Jake Smith. "It’s something that has to be done and with the previous riot a week before, I think they’re trying to send a message. They’re trying to do the right thing."
Students added that underage drinking continues to be a problem and needs to be adequately addressed. After the pledge arrests earlier this month, University President E. Gordon Gee said in a letter to the campus that there will be "zero tolerance" for criminal and unruly behavior.
Burch’s family in upstate New York rushed to West Virginia after the news. Burch, who graduated from Buffalo's Canisius High School in 2014 and worked at a car wash, was remembered by friends as someone who loved hockey and got along with everybody. He was reportedly studying pre-sports management.
"The Canisius family is really devastated," friend Nicholas Iacono told NBC affiliate WGRZ. "Before he went to college, I was like, 'Good luck, man … just be safe and everything.' And that’s all I said to him."
"I wish I would’ve went down there to see him before everything happened," Iacono added. "But it was heartbreaking when I found out."
Anthony Pecoraro contributed to this report.