Speaking publicly for the first time since their son died three months ago following what police said was a fraternity hazing ritual, the parents of LSU freshman Maxwell Gruver said in an interview aired Thursday on "Good Morning America" that they believe his death was murder.
Also on Thursday, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury began the process of determining whether to charge 10 men in connection with Gruver's death. They were arrested in October on counts that include hazing and, for one of them, negligent homicide.
“This shouldn’t have happened … shouldn’t happen to anybody,” Rae Ann Gruver told ABC News’ Amy Robach. When asked if she believed her son had been murdered, Gruver answered: “Yes, I believe so. … Nobody can physically drink that much. You can’t. You have to be forced to drink it.”
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She and her husband, Stephen, said they had done research on Phi Delta Theta after their son told them he was considering pledging, noting the organization’s no hazing and alcohol free housing policies. They thought the fraternity was a good fit for Max.
But they were unaware of complaints made by students and alumni just one year earlier of excessive drinking, drugs and hazing. The LSU chapter of Phi Delta Theta was suspended for one month following an investigation into those complaints.
“If we had found out just a year ago a fraternity had had a hazing incident, we might (have told) Max … ‘I don’t know that this is the one for you,’” Rae Ann Gruver said.
Maxwell Gruver died on Sept. 14, a few weeks after classes had started at LSU. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.495 — more than six times the legal limit — when he died. Authorities said Gruver was forced to drink highly concentrated 190 proof liquor called Diesel — almost 2.5 times more potent than standard 80 proof — during a hazing game at the Phi Delta Theta house.
Police reports estimate Gruver drank 10 to 12 pulls of liquor within about two hours, while most other pledges drank three or four. Pledges told police they believe some fraternity members targeted Gruver for repeatedly arriving late to fraternity events. Gruver was pronounced dead the following morning after he was taken to the hospital.
Ten men were arrested on hazing counts for their involvement in the ritual, and one of them was also arrested on the additional charge of negligent homicide. The men surrendered to LSU police in October but quickly posted bond and were released.
The national organization of Phi Delta Theta revoked the charter from the LSU chapter in response to the circumstances surrounding Gruver’s death.
In the aftermath, LSU President F. King Alexander also created a task force to evaluate Greek Life policies and make recommendations about how to change dangerous behaviors. Those recommendations are expected by the end of January, and parties involving alcohol are forbidden for Greek organizations in the meantime. LSU initially suspended all Greek activities but gradually lifted restrictions in the following weeks.
The university has also suspended two more fraternities since September for policy violations, continuing its crackdown on the Greek system. Another fraternity lost its charter and was removed from campus when the national organization responded to several reports of hazing throughout the years.
After three other possible hazing deaths this year involving fraternities at Penn State, Florida State and Texas State, Stephen Gruver said more still needs to be done to address the problem.
“They can create policy until they’re blue in the face. It’s not being policed,” Stephen Gruver said. “We can’t expect children — young adults — to have that responsibility.”
The Gruvers said they hope the death of their son makes students more likely to speak out when they witness hazing.
“They need to step up if they see something is wrong,” Rae Ann Gruver said. “Don’t be scared. You could possibly be saving somebody’s life.”
During a memorial Mass on LSU campus honoring Gruver shortly after his death, hundreds of students and faculty gathered to remember the freshman as his family described him: a “gentle giant” with an outgoing personality and loving heart.
Gruver had moved away from his hometown in Georgia to attend LSU just weeks before his death. With a lifelong passion for sports — including coaching his little sister’s youth basketball team — he planned to start a career in sports journalism after college, his family said.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the grand jury meeting Thursday launched the process of deciding whether the 10 men arrested in connection with Gruver’s death will ultimately face charges. Moore said the grand jury will meet again in January and possibly additional times after that.
Under Louisiana law, a grand jury decision is required to indict someone for crimes punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. It was not required for any defendants arrested in connection with Gruver’s death, but Moore said he chose to use a grand jury — a group of 12 people tasked with determining whether enough evidence exists for the case to go to trial — because of the “unusual nature” of the allegations.
The district attorney said the case “lends itself to a grand jury investigation” during which jurors review evidence from police and prosecutors “instead of me making the decision myself” of whether to charge people.
Grand jurors met for most of the day Thursday and received information about the case, Moore said. They could ultimately decide to charge all 10 of the people arrested, some of them or none at all.
Moore asked anyone with information about the Gruver case to contact his office because the “bottom line is we need to find out what happened and who did what and how did he die.”