April 13, 2012

Conflicting Narratives of Desdunes ’13 Death Highlighted by New York Times

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The New York Times published a story on fraternity hazing Thursday that focuses on the events surrounding the death of George Desdunes ’13, the student who died after a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledging event in February 2011. In it, The Times details the events of the night leading up to his death, as well as the close relationship between Desdunes and his mother.

Desdunes died the morning of Feb. 25, 2011, after allegedly taking part in a “mock kidnapping,” a form of reverse hazing where SAE pledges kidnapped Desdunes from the SAE house and took him to a North Campus townhouse to question him on fraternity trivia.

According to a $25 million lawsuit filed by Desdunes’ mother against SAE, he was tied up at the townhouse and given shot after shot of alcohol until he passed out. Desdunes was then “taken by the pledges, still bound at the wrists and ankles, and dumped on a couch in the SAE house where he was unattended and left to die,” the suit claims.

Built upon witness testimony and court documents, The Times’ story is a powerful narrative of the night the alleged hazing ritual took place, as well as the actions taken by SAE fraternity members and the national SAE organization following Desdunes’ death.According to The Times, authorities subpoenaed the phone records of a fourth pledge allegedly  involved in the hazing, whose name has not been released because he was 18 at the time of the incident and considered a juvenile. In addition to hazing, that individual has been charged with tampering with evidence. Court documents state that the pledge called his roommate and asked him to throw out the evidence of the kidnapping:

“‘I need you to do me a favor. It’s extremely urgent. Throw out all the zip ties and duct tape in the room, please. ASAP.”

The defense lawyers representing three former SAE pledges charged in connection with the hazing incident say that Desdunes was drinking heavily before he was kidnapped. They also allege that Desdunes had a history of binge drinking and voluntarily went along with the ritual. The Times says there is “considerable evidence” for this theory.

However, the timeline of events is still difficult to put together, according to The Times. The paper says that after Desdunes’ body was found, SAE brothers were quickly notified by the national SAE organization not to talk to police investigators.The Times’ story also details the close relationship between Desdunes and his mother, Marie Lourdes Andre. A widow and Haitian immigrant living in Brooklyn, Andre worked as a nanny, hospital aide and AIDS counselor so her son could attend private schools, according to the Times.

“In his essay for the Common Application, Mr. Desdunes wrote: ‘My family consists of two people. My Mom, Marie, and myself. Over the years I have come to realize the sacrifices that she has made for me in order to help me achieve something with my life.’”

The story gives an account of when Andre was notified of her son’s death, as well as when she traveled from Brooklyn to the medical examiner’s office in Binghamton to identify Desdunes’ body.Read the full story by The New York Times’ Michael Winerip here: http://nyti.ms/HNnDzC

Original Author: David Marten

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