An investigation into the death of a 20-year-old UC Riverside student who collapsed last weekend during a fraternity outing is currently underway by local authorities, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Tyler Hilliard, who would have been a junior at the California school studying engineering, was interested in joining the black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha — members include public figures from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to journalist Roland Martin to Omari Hardwick of Power fame. Hilliard’s family said he started going through the pledging process for the Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) in July 2018 and endured a series of hazing acts by the members.
The student’s mother, Myeasha Kimble-Hilliard, who was supportive of his decision, told the news publication, “I’m not saying that his death was a direct result of hazing. I don’t know that for sure. But I believe something happened that led up to his death.”
The incident began Saturday at 9 p.m. at a local hiking spot in the area known as Mount Rubidoux. Hilliard complained of shortness of breath and collapsed as his group was planning to run. His mom said that the fraternity pledge master called 911. The rest of Hilliard’s family said they later found text messages on his phone referring to the hiking trip as “gold paddle day.”
Hilliard was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead not too long after.
Through the messages, Kimble-Hilliard discovered that her son was forced to eat an entire onion covered in hot sauce, forced to drink copious amounts of water and paddled with a piece of cactus; all a part of the fraternity pledging process.
The group rushed Hilliard to the hospital a week before, complaining of chest pain that came after eating the onion and was later released being prescribed heartburn medication.
The Riverside police have labeled his death as suspicious. Both UC Riverside and Alpha Phi Alpha have released statements in response to this tragedy.
“The UC Riverside community grieves the loss of our student Tyler Hilliard. We’ve shared our condolences and offer of support with Tyler’s family and have made counseling services available to students, faculty or staff who knew him. UCR Student Affairs and UCPD are collaborating with the Riverside Police Department to determine the circumstances regarding Tyler’s passing.”
James R. Riley, who sits as Executive Director & COO of Alpha Phi Alpha national headquarters, released a statement on their website saying: “The Fraternity shares our deepest condolences to his family, loved ones and the entire university community, as their loss is unimaginable.”
This incident doesn’t mark the first time a BGLO has been put under blast by the public for hazing acts that are physical, emotional and mental against any student who wishes to join.
In March 2017, Trevor Jackson portrayed a fictional HBCU student who was the subject of aggressive hazing during his pledging process in the Netflix movie Burning Sands. Ironically, it was directed by Gerard McMurray who is a brother of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.