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Police: Hazing at Penn State Altoona fraternity may have led to suicide

By Haley Draznin and Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 2:57 PM EDT, Sat March 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marquise Braham, 18, jumped to his death from the roof of a Marriott hotel on Long Island
  • He may have been subjected to hazing, abuse at an off-campus fraternity house, police say
  • "He's kind, gentle, fun, sarcastic," says the victim's father, Rich Braham

(CNN) -- The suicide of a Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity member at a Pennsylvania university may have been caused by hazing, police said Thursday.

Marquise Braham, 18, jumped to his death Friday from the roof of a Marriott hotel on Long Island while home for spring break, authorities said.

"He's kind, gentle, fun, sarcastic," the victim's father, Rich Braham, told CNN affiliate News 12 Long Island. "Just good to be around. His entire life was in Christ-centered education."

A freshman at Penn State Altoona, Braham may have been subjected to hazing and physical abuse at an off-campus fraternity house before he committed suicide, said Ron Heller, chief of the Logan Township Police Department.

"There are allegations of hazing, drug abuse, physical abuse and alcohol abuse," said Heller, whose police force has jurisdiction of Logan Township, where the fraternity house is located. "The state of Pennsylvania does not have a specific hazing (section), but a harassment section which would clearly cover this, and if we link the young man's death to hazing, the individuals could be charged with criminal homicide in Pennsylvania

"Depending on the nature of what this hazing was, it could rise to an assault, and if this young man was distraught over what happened, whether he received hazing or was part of it, we can link that to the perpetrators. If we can link it, we can charge them."

Shari Routch, director of university relations for Penn State Altoona, said the university's Phi Sigma Kappa chapter has been suspended pending the investigation.

"Penn State is looking into alleged violations by the fraternity of the university's code of conduct," Routch said. "There is a separate ... criminal investigation conducted by Logan Township police. We have zero tolerance for hazing, zero tolerance for violations of code of conduct and violations for any illegal activity."

Michael Carey, executive vice president of Phi Sigma Kappa, said the national fraternity was "aware of the serious allegations" against its members and urged them to cooperate with law enforcement officials. The fraternity also was conducting an internal investigation.

"It would be improper to comment or speculate on the validity of any allegations of hazing or misconduct of the chapter until we have fully investigated this matter," Carey said.

Rich Braham said he imagined his son's fraternity involvement to be like the movie "Animal House."

"You know, the pledging process," he told News 12 Long Island. "There probably would be some drinking, hopefully not too much. You know, wearing togas."

Heller said Marquise Braham apparently had discussed the hazing with an aunt and several friends.

"In Pennsylvania law, there is a section of causing or aiding a suicide," Heller said. "If you cause by force, stress, or deception someone to commit suicide, you can be charged with criminal homicide in Pennsylvania."

Routch said the university, which has nearly 4,000 students, was offering grief and counseling sessions for students and staff.

"We really want to be a support system for the campus community," she said. "We are a very tight-knit campus and want to support our individuals who have been affected by this."

The university has two fraternities and two sororities, Routch said.

"In the midst of allegations," she said, "we do as a community offer our sincerest condolences to Marquise's family and friends."

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