‘Adam had a huge, huge heart’: Family believes hazing led to VCU student’s death

Fraternity served cease-and-desist order from national office
Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 8:48 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Loudoun County family is mourning the loss of Adam Oakes, a VCU student who died at an off-campus residence on Saturday.

Adam’s dad and cousin say they’re heartbroken over losing who they call their teddy bear, who was full of love and wanted to show that to everyone he met.

“He wasn’t just a good kid or good person to us, he was to everybody,” said his cousin Courtney White.

The family believes hazing is to blame for his death - and they just want answers.

Family members say that after a night of heavy drinking, Oakes passed out at the Delta Chi fraternity house and was discovered there the next morning.

“He had already tried to get into other fraternities and had been turned down, but he saw the comradery. He’d see the brotherhood and just loved the actual acceptance,” said Adam’s father, Eric Oakes.

Adam was offered a bid to join Delta Chi. His family says he had to go to a party on Friday night to start the initiation process.

“At 9 p.m., he texts his dad and just said, ‘I’m going in. Love you.’ and he went in,” said White.

That was the last time they heard from Adam, who was found dead on Saturday morning in the off-campus house.

His family says two pledges told them he was forced to drink a handle of Jack Daniels whiskey that night. His family also heard he was blindfolded and ran into a tree.

“They told us he passed out on the couch, on his side by about 11,” said White. “They checked on him at 12, he was breathing and he was on his side. By the next morning, when they checked on him at 9, he was face down and dead.”

The Richmond Police Department stated in a release that officers responded to the 100 block of West Clay Street at approximately 9:16 a.m. on Saturday for reports of a person down.

When officers arrived, they pronounced 19-year-old Oakes dead at the scene. The medical examiner will determine the cause and manner of death.

The reports of hazing have not been confirmed by police or VCU, however, Delta Chi fraternity’s national office issued a cease-and-desist order to the VCU chapter on Saturday. The university took similar action on Sunday and is continuing its own investigation.

“This is a tragic loss for Adam’s family and members of our community and we encourage any students in need of support to contact University Counseling Service at (804)828-6200,” stated a release from the university.

Anyone with information regarding this incident should contact Richmond Police Detective M. Gouldman at 804-646-3915 or VCU Police at 804-828-1196.

“Adam had a huge, huge heart, which is what drew him to that fraternity,” said White. “He wanted that sense of belonging.”

VCU President Michael Rao offered condolences to Oakes’ family and loved ones via Twitter on Sunday.

“We are heartbroken at a tragic loss of one of our own. I offer my heartfelt sympathies to Adam’s loved ones and closes friends,” Rao said. “@VCU will continue to work closely with local law enforcement as the investigation develops.”

The Delta Chi fraternity released a statement regarding the death and extended condolences to the family and friends of Oakes.

“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 fraternity said in a statement.

The fraternity also encouraged members to cooperate with law enforcement during investigation efforts.

Meanwhile, one of Adam’s closest friends from childhood has since started a GoFundMe for post-mortal costs. In just one day, the fundraiser has raised more than $30,000.

“I knew anyone who was close to him was going to pitch in something and with this being their only son this is crushing for them and anyway we could ease this process for them we were going to do it,” said Max Turner. “It is something he would have done for any of us because our friend group was really close-knit.”

Turner and Oakes grew up in Northern Virginia together - they played on the same baseball and football teams. From birthday parties to playing in the neighborhood, Turner says some of his beloved and most cherished memories are with Oakes.

“He was always the happiest guy in the room,” said Turner. “Any person that ever met him, met the same Adam, the same genuine happy guy. It’s just hard that I can’t see him anymore, it’s hard to think about.”

Turner says their friends are devastated and many of them have come home from college to be together and honor Adam’s life.

“We are going to carry ourselves with the same mentality of treating everyone with generosity and kindness and welcoming people. Anyone who met him knew they were welcome with him,” said Turner. “He was just a special person, it would be wrong if we didn’t live like Adam.”

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