Fraternity suspended after suicide
A Penn State Altoona fraternity has been suspended after one of its members committed suicide in New York over spring break, and based on photos and notes on the deceased fraternity brother’s phone, his family believes hazing drove him to take his life.
Marquise Braham, an 18-year-old freshman at PSU Altoona, jumped off the Marriott Long Island Hotel in Nassau County, N.Y., on Friday night.
While Nassau County police are investigating Braham’s death, Logan Township police are investigating his Penn State Altoona fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa.
Campus spokeswoman Shari Routch said the fraternity is suspended pending an internal campus investigation. She said the campus has received allegations of student code of conduct violations, which the campus decided on Wednesday were sufficient to suspend the fraternity.
Student code of conduct violations are not necessarily criminal, she said. The campus investigation is separate from the Logan Township police investigation.
Rich Braham is in the midst of making funeral arrangements for his son. Braham, ABC News managing editor, is seeking further investigation by district attorneys and police
in New York and Pennsylvania. The decision to go to the press came when campus police informed him that the fraternity president sought legal counsel instead of cooperating with a police investigation.
“I don’t want another parent to have to go through what we went through. We sent him in late August, not thinking he would come back to us and commit suicide,” he said. “It’s what happened in Altoona that sent him off the roof of the Marriott in New York.
“It’s clear he didn’t want to go back there.”
A photo in Marquise’s phone, provided to the Mirror by the Braham family, shows a young man blindfolded with someone pointing a gun to his head. Also in Marquise’s phone are text messages about use of the drug MDMA within the fraternity.
There are photos of bottles with names and numbers on them associated with the hazing process.
“It’s like being a whistle blower, but he’s not alive,” family spokesman Mike Paul said.
The Braham family still has many questions, but it believes that the role Marquise had in hazing fraternity pledges profoundly affected him.
“He felt a lot of guilt and shame about what he’s done and what he’s seen,” Paul said. “He felt he couldn’t stop it.”
Braham said his son did not speak much about his fraternity. But the day of his son’s death, Marquise’s hometown friends told Braham that Marquise had been disturbed by the hazing rituals at the Penn State Altoona fraternity.
“They told me the types of hazing that went on,” Braham said.
The day after Marquise’s death, some of his frat brothers visited in New York. Braham said he spoke with them outside of his home.
“Everybody liked him,” Braham was told.
Braham kept quiet about the information he had about the hazing when the frat brothers visited his home. But he asked the young men in general about hazing.
“‘It made him a better man,’ they told me,” he said.
The family hopes a local criminal authority in Blair County, perhaps the District Attorney’s Office or campus police, will open a tip line for students to call with information that may explain the reason for Marquise’s suicide.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said he has been made aware of the criminal investigation.
“Whether I get involved depends on what they turn up [in the criminal investigation],” Consiglio said. “We would prosecute unless the Attorney General’s Office would get involved. It is a possibility because it’s a state university. It [the investigation] is in the early stages. I don’t know if there is anything there.”
The note Braham left his parents stated that he had been at the roof of the Marriott earlier last week during his spring break, but he could not jump.
The note did not include a reason for the suicide, Braham said.
He said Marquise had a recent conversation with his aunt, saying that he needed to confess his sins.
His aunt could not believe that an 18-year-old could be so somber about his life.
Braham said he learned that his son sought a priest from his Catholic high school. He was raised in a Christian setting since pre-kindergarten, Braham said.
“He couldn’t go on seeing the hazings,” he said. “But he didn’t think there was any way out of that fraternity.”
The family believes Marquise’s tipping point was being in a leadership position in the fraternity. He was the fraternity secretary, taking notes during official meetings. But he was allegedly actively engaged in hazing rituals.
“How is it that freshmen get to pledge let alone have a leadership position?” Braham asked, adding that he knows that’s not the norm at other colleges.
Paul was especially critical of the campus for allowing fraternity leaders to be students who are under the legal drinking age.
Routch said the campus is known to be a two-year pit stop to the university’s main campus in State College, so the administration encourages students to seek out leadership opportunities while they are enrolled at the Altoona campus.
“In the midst of allegations and concerns about fraternity actions, Penn State Altoona wants to express deepest sympathies to the family of Marquise Braham,” Routch said. “We’ve been holding grieving counseling for staff and students all week long.”
Phi Sigma Kappa’s suspension means it is currently not formally recognized as a student organization and cannot engage in official fraternity activities, including recruiting pledges.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.