The father of a freshman fraternity pledge who died over the weekend held back tears on TODAY Tuesday as he talked about the "hole in his heart" left by his son's death.
Adam Oakes, 19, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, was found dead on Saturday morning after attending an off-campus fraternity party.
"It's a hole in my heart that will never be healed," his father, Eric Oakes, said tearfully on TODAY.
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The Richmond Police Department is investigating Oakes' death. The university and national office of the Delta Chi fraternity, both of which explicitly prohibit hazing, say they have suspended the VCU chapter. Police and university officials have not confirmed whether hazing was involved and have released few details since Oakes was found unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene on Saturday.
Oakes' family said he was attending an initiation party to learn who his big brother in the fraternity would be, and they suspect the event involved hazing and alcohol.
"We want some answers, you know. We deserve answers," his father said. "Adam deserves answers."
"We think it's part of the hazing process, and we think it went too far," Adam Oakes' cousin, Courtney White, added.
The family says they were told by pledges who attended the party that Oakes drank a large bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in an hour as part of an initiation process and then passed out.
"They checked in on him at midnight, he was breathing and OK and on his side, but then when they woke up, they found him face down on the couch," White said. "And then they rolled him over. Half his face was purple, half was not."
VCU president Michael Rao offered his condolences to Oakes' family on Sunday.
"We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of one of our own," he tweeted. "I offer my heartfelt sympathies to Adam’s loved ones and closest friends. @VCU will continue to work closely with local law enforcement as the investigation develops."
Oakes' death comes after 2020 marked the first year there hadn't been a hazing death in 60 years, the founder of HazingPrevention.org told NBC News.
The 19-year-old's death brought back painful memories for the parents of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State student who died after an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual in 2017.
"When I saw the details ... it hit a little too close to home," his mother, Evelyn Piazza, said on TODAY Tuesday.
"These things are very preventable if people just step and do the right thing," his father, Jim Piazza, added.
Oakes' family described Adam as a "beautiful soul" and a "big-hearted" guy who loved sports, once refusing to wash his hand after high-fiving one of his favorite players, NBA superstar Kevin Durant.
"I want to make sure this never happens again to any kid, any family," his father said.