When 22 former members of a fraternity at Northern Illinois University were sentenced last week in the hazing death of 19-year-old freshman David Bogenberger, his mother said she was struck by the lack of remorse.
"At sentencing, they wouldn't even look at us," Ruth Bogenberger told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. "No one has said anything to us in terms of expressing remorse for their actions."
In what is being called the largest hazing prosecution in U.S. history, 22 former members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity were sentenced on May 8 for their roles in the 2012 hazing death of Ruth Bogenberger's son.
David Bogenberger was found dead at the off-campus fraternity the morning after he was forced to consume excessive amounts of alcohol within a short span of time at an unsanctioned party — "Mom's and Dad's Night" — on Nov. 1, 2012. His blood-alcohol content was 0.351%, or four times higher than the legal limit of .08, authorities said.
Originally, the five officers of Pi Kappa Alpha responsible for organizing the party were charged with felony hazing — a crime that carries a sentence of up to six years in prison. But they and others avoided jail time after negotiating plea agreements with prosecutors.
Five of the former frat members pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and were sentenced to 24 months of probation, fined $1,000, and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Seventeen others pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to two years of court supervision, fined $500, and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, the Daily Herald reported.
Ruth Bogenberger, who was in the courtroom with her husband, would not comment on whether she felt the men deserved jail time, but hoped the legal case would make people realize that hazing needs to stop.
"Kids are being harmed," she said. "Kids are dying."
Ruth Bogenberger called the party a "huge oversight" on the part of NIU officials.
Pi Kappa Alpha, which hosted the party for 19 pledges, including David, did not register the event with the national chapter or NIU. But Ruth Bogenberger said that the university should have been suspicious when not a single event was registered by the fraternity during pledge week.
"Someone was asleep at the wheel," she said, referring to university officials. "NIU has an obligation to keep its students safe and the fraternity was a university-recognized organization."
David had assured her and her husband that hazing was not allowed at NIU when they were wary about him pledging at Pi Kappa Alpha, Bogenberger said. Her husband read "some reassuring piece" on an online parent portal about how hazing is not allowed at NIU. And according to NIU's own policy, at least 51% of Pi Kappa Alpha's members are to be trained in "alcohol education," which includes information on blood alcohol content, how to help friends, alcohol poisoning and signs of intoxication, according to a university statement in response to the incident.
Those monitors, Bogenberger said, were supposed to be the "voice of reason" at parties where alcohol was served.
"Where were they? What were they doing?" she said. "Clearly, the fraternity wanted to keep this party a secret."
An NIU investigation found 31 students had violated the Code of Conduct, exposing them to a range of sanctions, including probation, suspension, and even expulsion. However, the university did not disclose what punishments were handed down, citing student privacy laws.
NIU also removed Pi Kappa Alpha as a recognized student organization, while the national fraternity suspended the chapter and revoked its charter.
NIU did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Last year, David Bogenberger's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NIU Pi Kappa Alpha chapter, the national organization, and more than 45 people who participated in the "Mom's and Dad's Night" party.
The civil lawsuit, which sought more than $100,000 in damages, was dismissed in December by a Cook County judge who ruled that neither the party hosts, nor the national fraternity and sorority members, could not be held liable for the alcohol, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The judge said that the Bogenberger family's lawyer, Peter Coladarci, did not successfully show that Pi Kappa Alpha required intoxication as a prerequisite for membership — a violation of the state's anti-hazing statute. Coladarci appealed the ruling in January.
After last week's sentencing hearing, Coladarci called on fraternities and sororities alike to abolish pledging. He told BuzzFeed News on Monday that pledging events such as "Mom's and Dad's Night" are essentially hazing.
"Fraternities are businesses, and are run to make money," Coladarci said. "The way they make money is by encouraging local chapters to recruit pledges so they pay their dues, which go the the national fraternity to fund their business."
He said the national Pi Kappa Alpha chapter directly or indirectly encourages pledging events and alleged that the "Mom's and Dad's Night" was an event held by all the chapters of the fraternity.
The former fraternity members may have avoided jail time in connection with David's death, but his father told them in court that the ramifications would still be long lasting.
"I sincerely hope that all you defendants eventually come to realize the emotional devastation you left in the wake of your actions," a visibly emotional Gary Bogenberger said at the sentencing.
He added: "David was an affable, caring son who wanted acceptance and friendship. You used his need for this to render him incapacitated and dead. You didn't care for him. You left him alone to die."
In the absence of the display of remorse in court, Ruth Bogenberger also had a message, not only for defendants, but for others like them on college campuses across the U.S.
"I hope the justice meted out in this courtroom today is enough of a deterrent to save other young, promising lives, and to spare other parents from the indescribable agony that David's father and I will endure every day for the rest of our lives," she said.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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