The family of a California State University, Northridge student who died while hiking on a trip with members of a school fraternity is looking for answers and justice following what they believe was a hazing incident.
Armando Villa, a 19-year-old "associate member," or pledge, of the Zeta Mu Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at CSUN, died Tuesday during an outing in the Angeles National Forest, officials said.
The group ran out of water and the teen lost consciousness on the trail near Big Tujunga Canyon Road, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
The others flagged down a forest ranger and the teen was taken to a hospital, where he died.
According to Villa's aunt Marie Castaneda, three boys that were on the hike with Villa were at the hospital and told his family that they were "left barefoot with very little water to share between the boys, and no cellphones, and to find their way out of the forest."
- Breaking News Alerts: Download Our News App
"The doctor was really concerned because [Armando's] feet were blistered and cut, and he, he used the word 'hazing' to my sister because it was a fraternity-sponsored event that they were on," Castaneda said.
Get Los Angeles's latest local news on crime, entertainment, weather, schools, COVID, cost of living and more. Here's your go-to source for today's LA news.
Villa had just completed his freshman year at CSUN. His cousin told NBC4 that from what he understood, this event was supposed to take place about a month and a half ago, but that it was moved.
Family members said Villa was eager to make friends at school.
"He wanted to be part of a group at school and you know what better way to be part of a group than being in a fraternity," said Villa's cousin, Efrain Lopez. "During the pledges, he kind of felt out of it, didn't really like it, didn't enjoy it as much as he thought he would."
Lopez said Villa had previously told his cousins about another uncomfortable ritual for new members.
"They were blindfolded and when Armando took the blindfold off, [the pledges] were at a beach and [the fraternity members] told them that they have to lay on the sand with their elbows in the sand for who knows how long," Lopez said. "Armando got home and his elbows were all, like the skin was basically coming off and cut up from the sand, and that’s when Armando was like, I don’t want to do this anymore."
Castaneda said Tuesday's event, which was called "Saw," was the final pledge challenge, required for securing a spot in the fraternity.
"In his cellphone he had actually notes to himself. And I think it was just notes of what he would do when he got in the fraternity," Castaneda said. "One of the things he had on there was stop hazing and the second thing was stop making underage students drink alcohol as part of their pledges."
Homicide detectives believe Villa's death was accidental and possibly caused by a heat stroke, LASD officials said. But Villa's family wants the pledges who were with Armando to come forward and tell them what exactly happened Tuesday. They feel the fraternity should be held responsible for his death.
- More California News: 'Super-Toxic' Rat Poison Banned | Berkeley Set to Require Free Medical Pot for the Poor
"The men in charge of this fraternity, you know, the ones that left them there, we want [punishment] for these guys cause they, they murdered our child. They killed him. They left him there to die," Castaneda said.
The fraternity chapter has suspended all activities during an investigation into the incident. Pi Kappa Phi Chief Executive Officer Mark E. Timmes said that at this point, the group's "primary concern is supporting our members and the student's family."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the student," Timmes said. "We appreciate the support from the Division of Student Affairs and the entire CSUN community during this difficult time."
NBC4's Kate Larsen contributed to this report.