Adam Oakes was a freshman student at Virginia Commonwealth University who was found dead at an off-campus house on February 27. Oakes, 19, was pledging the Delta Chi fraternity.
Family members say they believe Oakes endured hazing during a fraternity party the night before he died, NBC4 Washington reported. Neither the university nor the Richmond Police Department has confirmed whether this was the case.
The Delta Chi chapter at VCU has been suspended, according to a statement issued by the university.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Oakes’ Cousin Says He Was Given a Handle of Whiskey & Hit His Head After Being Blindfolded at the Party
Oakes’ cousin, Courtney White, has insisted the college freshman was given too much to drink during a Delta Chi party. She told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Oakes was given “a handle of Jack Daniels whiskey” and instructed to drink it. A handle typically contains enough alcohol to pour 40 shots, according to The Thrillist. White told WTTG-TV Oakes drank the entire bottle.
White says other people who attended the party told her Oakes was blindfolded and that he hit his head on a tree. Partygoers moved Oakes back inside the house and put him on his side on a couch. According to NBC4 Washington, friends checked on him around midnight and told police Oakes had still been breathing at that point.
But by morning, Oakes was found face-down on the couch and half of his face was purple, White told NBC4 Washington. Someone called for help and officers arrived at the house at 9:16 a.m., the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The newspaper added that VCU officials, Richmond Police and Delta Chi’s national organization declined to confirm or deny White’s account of what happened at the party.
The Richmond Police Department confirmed to Heavy via email that officers found Oakes “down and unresponsive” at a house located in the 100 block of West Clay Street. He was pronounced dead at the scene. A medical examiner will perform an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. The police spokesperson added that the department is working with the VCU Police Department on the investigation. Anyone with information about Oakes’ death was asked to call Richmond Police Detective M. Gouldman at 804-646-3915 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.
2. The Family Believes Oakes’ Death Was the Result of Hazing: Report
Oakes was an only child and had been excited to pledge a fraternity at college. His father, Eric Oakes, told NBC4 Washington that his son pledged Delta Chi, along with other students he knew from high school, as a way to make new friends.
The family is pushing for a thorough investigation to determine exactly what happened to cause the freshman’s death. “I want to make sure that this never happens again to any kid, to any family,” Eric Oakes told the outlet. “Adam deserves answers.”
Cousin Courtney White added that the family believes Oakes died during the “hazing process” and that “it went too far.”
According to family members, Oakes typically returned home to Loudoun County on the weekends, WTVR-TV reported. He stayed on campus the weekend he died in order to be matched with his fraternity “big brother,” relatives told NBC4 Washington.
3. Oakes Is Remembered as a ‘Joyful Guy’ Who Was Close With His Parents & Loved Sports
Oakes played on the football team during high school and enjoyed cheering on other athletic teams, according to a tweet from his alma mater. Lower Loudoun Boys Football also shared on Facebook that Oakes had been part of the organization for many years.
Oakes had not yet selected a college major, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but had been considering sports marketing. Relatives told the newspaper Oakes was loving the college experience even though classes were online due to the coronavirus pandemic. His cousin, Courtney White, told WTVR-TV Oakes had a “really special bond” with his parents and was the type of person who would do anything to help someone else in need.
A GoFundMe campaign launched to help Oakes’ parents pay for funeral expenses has raised more than $30,000 as of this writing. On the page, Oakes was described as “the happiest, most joyful guy that everyone wanted to be around.”
4. The VCU Delta Chi Fraternity Was Suspended by Both the National Organization & the University
We were devastated to learn of the death of a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and extend our condolences to the family, friends and everyone touched by this heartbreaking news. The health and safety of our chapter communities is always a top priority for the Delta chi Fraternity, which suspended the VCO chapter after learning of the incident late Saturday afternoon. We encourage all members to cooperate with law enforcement investigative efforts and all directive of the University Administration.
Virginia Commonwealth University followed suit. The school announced in a written statement on February 28 that the “Delta Chi fraternity’s national office issued a cease-and-desist order to the VCU chapter on Saturday; the university took similar action today and continues its investigation.” VCU added in a tweet that students grieving Oakes’ death could seek support from University Counseling Services at (804) 828-6200.
5. It Was Not Immediately Clear Whether Charges Would Be Filed
The Richmond Police Department has yet to release additional information related to Oakes’ death. As of this writing, the department had only confirmed that Oakes’ had been found unresponsive at an address on Clay Street and that he was pronounced dead at the scene. They have not commented on the family’s allegations that Oakes’ death was the result of hazing and heavy drinking.
But a petition launched on Change.org is pushing for a criminal investigation into Oakes’ death. The petition, which was started by a VCU student on February 28, calls for Delta Chi to be permanently banned from VCU’s campus “as well as the expulsion of the students involved from the University.” The petition garnered more than 6,800 signatures in about 24 hours.