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This Fraternity And Its Brothers Are Facing More Than 850 Charges In A Teenager's Hazing Death

Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore, died from his injuries after falling down a flight of stairs during a pledging ceremony by the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

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The Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 18 of its brothers were charged Friday in the hazing death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore.

The Centre County District Attorney announced more than 850 charges — including involuntary manslaughter — against the fraternity and its members for Piazza's death during a pledging ceremony in February.

Piazza died from his injuries two days after after he was forced to consume "a life-threatening amount of alcohol" and fell down a flight of stairs during a hazing ritual for Beta Theta Pi pledges, according to grand jury findings released on Friday.

None of the brothers called for medical help for 12 hours after Piazza first fell — and attempted to cover up their role in his death by deleting their online exchanges, prosecutors said.

The Centre County DA released a document revealing chilling details and the sequence of events at the ceremony on Feb. 2 that led to Piazza's death. Charges against the fraternity and its brothers also include hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.

Piazza suffered from respiratory failure due to severe head trauma and compromised brain function, a medical expert testified. He had multiple traumatic brain injuries and a fracture at the base of his skull.

The operating surgeon who opened Piazza's abdominal cavity discovered four liters — 80% of a human body's total blood supply — of dark, old blood in his abdomen, according to the grand jury findings.

"Tim was an incredibly young man and an excellent student with a very bright, promising future ahead of him," his father, Jim Piazza, said at a press conference Friday.

Jim Piazza, father of Tim Piazza speaks about charges.

"He was awesome son, brother, boyfriend, and friend. We’re going to miss him terribly. He wanted nothing more than to make people laugh and just be a good friend."

Jim Piazza said that the death of his son was the result of "a disobedience of law, a disregard of moral values which was then exacerbated by egregious acts of self-preservation."

In a statement Friday, Beta Theta Pi — which was banned from returning to Penn State — said the nature of the charges against its members is "incredibly disheartening."

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"Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity has clearly and consistently expressed its position that it does not tolerate hazing or alcohol abuse in any form by its members," the statement said. "The former undergraduate members were well educated by the International Fraternity and Penn State on these policies; however, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence as they face these charges."

Penn State president Eric Barron described the details revealed in the grand jury findings as "heart-wrenching and incomprehensible," in a statement on Friday.

"The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand," Barron said. Since Piazza's death, the university had announced a number of "aggressive measures" to reform Greek life on campus, he said.

Here's a summary of the events at the pledging ceremony that led to Piazza's death, all according to the grand jury findings:

On the night of Feb. 2, Piazza fell down the fraternity house's basement steps after allegedly being made to drink four to five alcoholic beverages within two minutes at a series of drinking stations, referred to as the "gauntlet" during the pledging ceremony.

The purpose of the gauntlet is to get pledges drunk in a very short time.

Surveillance video from the fraternity house showed "a visibly intoxicated" Piazza severely staggering drunkenly toward the basement steps. A brother at the ceremony testified that he saw Piazza "lying on his stomach, face down at the bottom of the steps."

In a group message to the brothers, one of them wrote: "Also Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help."

According to the findings, some of the brothers carried Piazza to a couch. The teen's body was limp, he appeared to be unconscious, and he had a bruise on his abdomen, according to surveillance video.

As Piazza lay on the couch, the findings revealed that brothers allegedly dumped liquid on his face, slapped his face multiple times, struck him on his bruised abdomen, and attached a backpack to him to presumably prevent him from rolling over.

The grand jury concluded that despite noting the severity of Piazza's condition through the night, the fraternity brothers and pledges did not call the authorities until 12 hours later.

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One of the newly initiated brothers, Kordel Davis, recalled that Piazza "looked horrible" and that his eyes were shut and he was "thrashing and making weird movements on the couch."

Davis testified that he repeatedly told the brothers that they should call 911 and take Piazza to the hospital. He screamed at them for help but was ignored, and once was allegedly shoved against a wall. One of the brothers told him he was "crazy," Davis testified. Davis also warned them that Piazza should not go to sleep because he could lapse into a coma, but one of the brothers told him that was a "myth."

At one point during the night, a brother allegedly tackled another brother who landed on top of an unconscious Piazza.

The documents revealed that as Piazza regained consciousness he fell several more times during the course of the night, striking his head twice on the hardwood floor, falling into an iron railing and landing on a stone floor, and falling head first into a door.

A brother told detectives that when he sent a GroupMe message warning that Piazza should be taken to a hospital, the only response from another brother was that he was being "overdramatic."

As Piazza lay on the floor during the night, some of the brothers allegedly stepped over his body and left him there, while one began Snapchatting him, according to the findings.

The brothers discovered Piazza the next morning "lying on his back with his arms clenched tight at his sides and his hands in the air," and "his chest was bare, his breathing heavy, and he had blood on his face," according to the findings. He also "felt cold to the touch, his skin appeared pale, and his eyes remained half-open."

No one immediately called 911 even though numerous brothers had cell phones, according to surveillance video of the scene. Footage showed that while Piazza lay unconscious on the floor, the brothers "shook him, attempted to prop his limp body up on the couch; covered him with a blanket; wiped his face; and attempted to dress him."

A cell phone belonging to one of the brothers revealed internet searches for "falling asleep after head injury," "true or false, a person with a serious head injury or concussion should be kept awake," "cold extremities in drunk person," and "binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands."

Around 42 minutes after discovering Piazza, one of the brothers called 911.

As they waited for police to arrive, a brother testified that someone suggested dressing Piazza "because they claimed Timothy might look better if he was dressed before medical treatment was rendered." However they were unsuccessful because of the stiffness of his arms.

Investigators recovered "a wealth of information" that showed "an active attempt to conceal and/or destroy evidence" after Piazza was transported to the hospital.

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The grand jury concluded that many of the brothers' GroupMe messages "demonstrated a concerted effort by some of the Beta brothers to destroy or withhold evidence of both the alleged hazing as well as the underage consumption of alcohol."

This included alleged directives to delete the GroupMe messages, get rid of evidence of alcohol in the basement, and to ensure the pledges "keep quiet" about the incidents of the night.

In an exchange between the chapter's president, Brendan Young, and another brother, Young expressed his concerns about being sued for Piazza's death saying, "They could get us for giving him alcohol that contributed to his death. Also the guys taking care of him didn't call an ambulance right away, so they could get in trouble for negligence. I just don't know what I'm liable for as president."

A fraternity member told police that they were concerned about calling 911 after Piazza's fall because they were "fearful the police would discover indications of hazing as well as minors under the influence of alcohol in their house."

In text messages to an unidentified person, Young blamed himself for Piazza's death, saying, "He looked fucking dead."

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The text messages from Young's phone described Piazza the next morning as "completely limp."

"He is in shock and was on the verge of death," the messages said.

In another exchange, Young said, "He fell down a flight of stairs because he was too drunk," to which a person responded, "You can't blame yourself."

Young replied: "How can I not? I don't think you fully comprehend the situation. He looked fucking dead..."

Here's the evidence prosecutors released:

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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