A Cal State Northridge fraternity is under investigation by the university and could face a permanent suspension after a 19-year-old pledge died following a hike in the wilderness suspected of being a hazing ritual.
Armando Villa, a pledge to the Zeta Mu Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at the school, died Tuesday after losing consciousness in the Angeles National Forest after the group he was with ran out of water. Fellow pledges flagged down a ranger for help, but Villa died at a nearby hospital.
His family has raised concern the event was part of a hazing ritual, which the school said it strictly forbids.
"We have zero tolerance on this campus for hazing or anything like that, so once it comes to our attention, we put our foot down quite dramatically," CSUN spokeswoman Carmen Ramos Chandler said.
The fraternity has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, she added.
The CEO Of Pi Kappa Phi, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, was in Northridge Thursday talking to local chapter members and CSUN officials.
Chandler said the school will investigate the circumstances of Villa's death, including whether hazing played a role. Individual students who were involved in the hike could also face consequences from the university if it is determined they played a direct role.
Two fraternity men on the CSUN campus told NBC4 Thursday that they, along with the CSUN Interfraternity Council, have been told not to talk about the incident.
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."
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"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.
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The fraternity is cooperating with the investigations into Villa’s death, and its national organization has expressed sadness and concern for the student’s family.
"He apparently was trying to pledge a fraternity...trying to join a fraternity, and this may be one of the activities or initiations they were doing," said LA County Sheriff's Lt. John Corina.
Villa's family members say he had expressed concern about hazing during the pledging process.
"The reason why he would join a fraternity is so he could stop the hazing," Villa's cousin Efrain Lopez said.
A note dated April 24, 2014, was found on Villa's cell phone after he died, that said in part that "hazing should be stopped." The note added that hazing leads to "the fraternities downfall."
Homicide detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are investigating and say the death may have been an accident. The coroner’s office has yet to release an official cause of death.
Villa's cousin has a message for those who were on the hike.
"If it was an accident, say it was an accident, just tell us what happened and that’s it, we'll move on. But obviously you're hiding something if you don't want to come forward," Villa's cousin Efrain Lopez said.