Adam Oakes’s father said his son was looking for a way to fit in at Virginia Commonwealth University, so he was thrilled to receive an invitation to pledge the Delta Chi fraternity last week.
“I’m going in,” the family said Oakes texted his father. “I love you.”
A little over 12 hours later, Oakes was found dead on a couch in the off-campus house, his family said. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Delta Chi chapter has been suspended. And Oakes’s family has embarked on its own investigation of his death, frustrated with the response from Richmond police and the university.
“We need answers. We want to know what happened and why,” said Courtney White, Oakes’s cousin. “What was he thinking in that moment? How could we have protected him?”
So far, Richmond police and VCU have publicly released little about the circumstances of Oakes’s death. Officers were called to the 100 block of West Clay Street shortly after 9:15 a.m. Saturday for a report of a “person down,” according to Richmond police. Oakes was pronounced dead on the scene.
A state medical examiner performed an autopsy on Oakes on Monday but has yet to release the results, police said.
VCU said in a statement Sunday that it “mourns the death” of the student and is continuing its investigation into what happened. The national office of Delta Chi has suspended the fraternity’s VCU chapter, and the university said in its statement that it had taken “similar action.” Neither the university nor the fraternity commented on any chapter activities that occurred Friday night.
“This is a tragic loss for Adam’s family and members of our community,” the VCU statement read.
White said she and others in her family have begun trying to piece together what happened to Oakes because they thought police weren’t pushing hard enough to explore all the possibilities.
Relatives described Adam as a gentle giant and a sports fanatic who once refused to wash his hand after getting the chance to give a high-five to NBA star Kevin Durant. He thought about majoring in sports management, marketing or criminal justice.
“He’s a big-hearted kid,” said Oakes’s father, Eric Oakes. “When he walked in the room he put a smile on everyone’s face.”
Oakes’s family said he told them he had received an invitation to pledge Delta Chi on Feb. 23 and was told to show up for a “Big Little Reveal” on Friday. Oakes’s father said Adam was both excited and nervous as he embarked on fraternity life.
The family said they spoke to four people who said they attended the party.
Partygoers told them that Adam Oakes showed up at the off-campus house around 9 p.m. Friday and began drinking alcohol, the family said. Oakes’s family said police also told them that Oakes had been drinking at the party.
The party attendees provided accounts to Oakes’s family of what happened next, the family said.
The family said they were told that Oakes passed out on a couch in the off-campus house about 11 p.m. Others checked on him around midnight and he appeared to be fine, but they discovered Adam facedown and unresponsive on the couch the next morning, according to the accounts.
Oakes’s family said they also were told by at least some attendees that Oakes was blindfolded and led outside. At some point, he tripped and his head struck a tree, the people said. Oakes’s family thought such a fall could cause serious injury because Oakes weighed about 340 pounds.
Oakes somehow made it back inside the house after the fall, the family said they were told.
Richmond police, VCU and Delta Chi’s national chapter declined to comment on the accounts relayed by the family. The family said police have not confirmed either account or provided them additional details. The Washington Post was unable to reach anyone who attended the Friday event.
“As of now, detectives have not released anything about circumstances of what they believed occurred,” said James Mercante, a public information officer for the Richmond police.
Delta Chi’s chapter at VCU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The national chapter of Delta Chi put out a statement saying the fraternity was “devastated” by Oakes’s death and offering condolences to his family.
“The health and safety of our chapter communities is always a top priority for the Delta Chi Fraternity, which suspended the VCU chapter after learning of the incident late Saturday afternoon,” the statement read.
In August 2018, Delta Chi was placed under a year-long suspension for failing to comply with the university’s requirements for fraternities — including rules surrounding event registrations, attendance policies and academic performance — said Michael Porter, a school spokesman.
Oakes’s family said that he had no underlying health conditions they were aware of that might have caused his death and that he was not a heavy drinker. Oakes graduated from Potomac Falls High School in 2020, where he played football as a freshman and participated in intramural basketball.
An online fundraiser to help Oakes’s family with burial costs was seeking to raise $15,000 but had collected more than $31,000 through Monday afternoon. Oakes’s family saw it as a testament to Adam.
“He was a sweet boy, and he didn’t deserve this,” said his aunt Allison Cook.