More than 30 others will be charged with a range of other crimes, including assault, conspiracy and hindering apprehension, in connection with Deng’s death. The charges were recommended by a Pennsylvania grand jury after a year-long investigation into the death.
Deng, who went by Michael, died during a fraternity retreat to the Poconos in December 2013. The students were playing a game called “the glass ceiling,” according the release. Deng was blindfolded and forced to wear a weighted backpack while making his way across a field. Meanwhile, his fellow fraternity members repeatedly tackled him, knocking him off track and into the ground.
After one-too-many tackles, Deng was knocked unconscious. For a while, the other young men did nothing, according to Pocono Mountain Regional Police. Allegedly, some left the house, while others contacted a national Pi Delta Psi representative, Andy Meng, who told them to hide fraternity items. A few frantically searched online to try and diagnose Deng’s condition.
But when Deng failed to wake up, three of his fellow students brought him to the hospital, telling officials that the young man had passed out after falling over while the group wrestled in the snow, according to NBC. Later, the true story of the brutal “Glass Ceiling” game emerged.
Deng, who was scratched, cut and bruised in addition to suffering major head trauma, was placed on life support. He died of his injuries the following day.
According to the press release, the cause of death was “multiple traumatic injuries,” including “at least three clear impacts to the head” and a “massive bruise to the back … due to repeated blunt force impacts which resulted in traumatic asphyxia.”
“The transport was done in a private vehicle … which means this poor victim wasn’t receiving any medical attention until the time he actually made it to the hospital.”
The five facing murder charges are Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, Daniel Li and Sheldon Wong. The fraternity is also being charged.
Hugh H. Mo, an attorney for one of the 37 students charged, said in a statement to NBC that the “across-the-board charges against all the young men in the house and outside in the backyard is not justified nor provable,” and added that 36 of the 37 students were “overcharged.”
Christine, the district attorney, said he agreed with the grand jury’s recommendations.
“We believe the recommendations were sound and worthy of action on the part of the commonwealth,” he told the New York Times.
He said it took nearly two years to file charges because authorities had to figure out who among the dozens who were there bore the most responsibility for the death.
Deng and his fellow fraternity members attended Baruch College, a school in the City University of New York system attended mostly by commuter students from Brooklyn and Queens. The school is known more for its history and academic rigor — Jonas Salk and Upton Sinclair went there — than for a raucous Greek system. None of the fraternities or sororities had group houses on campus, and Pi Delta Psi met in a tiny office space shared with two other clubs, according to the Times.
Pi Delta Psi, which disbarred the Baruch chapter after Deng’s death, is an Asian American cultural fraternity, according to its Web site. The group says it is guided by “four pillars”: academic achievement, cultural awareness, righteousness, and friendship/loyalty.
The national president of the fraternity, Andy Meng, told NBC that the trip was “an unsanctioned event that was strictly prohibited by our organization.” Meng, the Pi Delta Psi representative who allegedly spoke to the students after Deng was knocked unconscious, is among those being charged with hazing, hindering apprehension and criminal conspiracy, according to Pocono Mountain Regional Police.
Officials at Baruch also said they didn’t know about the retreat.
Deng’s family, which is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against Pi Delta Psi, applauded the charges.
“Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970,” the Dengs said in a statement. “Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one.”
The family is seeking an end to the pledging process, which they say is responsible for their son’s death.
Deng was one of four new pledges being initiated during the Poconos retreat, according to the Times. A freshman from Queens, he had graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science that spring, according to NBC.
When he graduated, the quote beneath his yearbook photo read, “If people are doubting how far you’ll go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.”