The death of a 19-year old Pi Kappa Phi pledge while on a barefoot hike through a forest in southern California is being blamed by his family on hazing by the Cal State fraternity. Armando Villa collapsed and died on Tuesday after, as authorities now believe, he ran out of water and lost consciousness.
Villa had been on a trek with a group of pledges from the California State University Northridge chapter of Pi Kappa Phi through the Angeles National Forest. He was found unconscious by a park ranger, blisters covering his bare feet. Emergency personnel raced him to a hospital, where family members say the young man passed away from heat stroke. Relatives of Villa claim that he was part of a group of nine pledges dropped off in the forest sans cell phones or shoes and tasked with making their way out of the woods. The young men were equipped with a scant amount of water for hydration.
Police are urging the public to wait until the investigation into the teen’s death is complete before making any assumptions regarding whether the death was related to fraternity hazing or not. However, according to Lt. John Corina with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, “It kind of looks that way.” Corina also mentioned that the majority of the hike participants were not being cooperative with the police investigation, to the extent that at this moment, investigators are unsure as to the exact number of people who were dropped off in the woods. Corina believes that the participants are “afraid of getting in trouble.”
Assistant Executive Director of Education and Accountability Justin Angotti of Pi Kappa Phi confirmed that Villa had been on a previously-planned hike with both pledges and members of the fraternity when he passed out. The national chapter of the fraternity has suspended the California State University Northridge arm of its fraternity from all activities until the results of the official investigation are known. Fraternity CEO Mark Timmes released a statement to declare that “Hazing has no place in our fraternity.” He promised that any individual chapter or member that violates the fraternity’s conduct standards will be “held accountable.”
Maria Castenayda, aunt of Villa, told KTLA-TV that she couldn’t understand why her nephew would be forced to undergo such a physical trial just to join a group, saying “They want to join, let them in.” A cousin of Villa’s, Mark Castaneda, told the Los Angeles Times that at one point, Villa had considered canceling his participation in the trek but had changed his mind when his friends pressured him to go through with it, and because he had already attended other fraternity pledging activities during the spring rush, when college fraternities typically recruit new members to their chapters. Another such pledge recruitment occurs in the fall.
The California State Northridge chapter of Pi Kappa Phi has 40 members and has been chartered at the university since 1989. Villa was scheduled to begin his sophomore year at Cal State Northridge in the fall.
By Jennifer Pfalz