LAWRENCE, N.J. – Prosecutors and police were investigating whether hazing was involved in the death of an 18-year-old student at Rider University who, a day earlier, drank excessively at a fraternity party.
Authorities searched the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on Thursday and removed some items. They were still interviewing students on Friday, said Mercer County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio.
Gary DeVercelly, 18, of Long Beach, Calif., died at about 10:50 a.m. at Capital Health System's Fuld Campus in Trenton, said Don MacNeill, a hospital spokesman. DeVercelly had been comatose and in critical condition at the hospital.
Students said the entire campus was feeling the shock. Hundreds had attended a prayer vigil Thursday night at the university chapel.
"Rider is such a small community that something like this affects everyone," said Nicole Lee, 18, a first-year student from Mercer County's Hamilton Township.
Rider President Mordechai Rozanski described the death as a tragedy.
"We feel deep sorrow," Rozanski said. The university planned to hold a memorial service on Saturday.
In a statement released through the hospital spokesman, DeVercelly's parents described him as a loving brother to his two younger siblings.
"It seemed that everywhere he went, Gary touched people and impacted them in a positive way," the parents said. "He was a man you could depend on who had an easygoing manner."
"Our family finds great comfort in knowing that Gary is in heaven, but we are struggling with the loss in our lives," said Gary DeVercelly Sr. and his wife Julie.
Lawrence Township police were dispatched to the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house at 1:52 a.m. Thursday on a report of a student vomiting from drinking alcohol.
DeVercelly and a second student, who was also intoxicated, were taken to the hospital for treatment of alcohol poisoning.
DeVercelly was admitted to the intensive care unit. The second student, 19-year-old William Williams, was treated in the emergency room and released.
DeVercelly's parents flew to New Jersey from California on Thursday to be with their son.
Many on campus said the fraternity was known for its Wednesday night parties.
"It's a fun place. You go out there and have a good time," said Dave Moore, an 18-year-old freshman from Mercer County's Hamilton Township.
"I like those guys a lot," said Tony Butch, 22, a senior marketing major from Maple Shade, who added that the fraternity was known as one of the less troublesome on campus.
Rider's 15 Greek organizations are expected to register parties with the university and follow campus rules against underage drinking. But the Wednesday night party wasn't registered, said Anthony Campbell, Rider's dean of students.
DeVercelly was a new member of the fraternity. The university is in the midst of a spring pledge season, Campbell said.
Phi Kappa Tau members were back in the house on Friday morning, but Rider was barring the fraternity from holding further events while authorities investigated the student's death.
Rider was waiting for the prosecutor's office to finish its investigation before deciding what further action was needed regarding the fraternity and individual students, Campbell said.
Oxford, Ohio-based Phi Kappa Tau was also waiting for the results of the investigation before deciding whether any sanctions were warranted against its Rider chapter.
Rider has nearly 5,800 undergraduate and graduate students at its main campus near Trenton and its Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton.