Tyler Hilliard, a 20-year old student of the University of California Riverside, died on Saturday after a hiking trip with other members of the local Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Investigations are ongoing and authorities are looking at the possibility of hazing being the cause of his death.
Hilliard, an aspiring engineer who was studying physics and would have been a junior at UCR this year, was excited to join the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, his family said. They said he did pledge at the fraternity and activities started in July.
His mother, Myeasha Kimble, told ABC News that Hilliard did his research about the fraternity. She noted that it “is one of the oldest Greek fraternities and it’s a black organization. Martin Luther King was a part of that organization.” She added that his son “felt that this was a good fit for him because this organization appeared to be involved in community service.”
The fraternity’s website states that Alpha Phi Alpha has a strict no-hazing stance and that anyone participating in hazing is a criminal. However, his family claims that Hilliard had been hazed a lot of times and was even allegedly “forced to eat items like an entire onion covered in hot sauce, forced to drink large amounts of water, and even paddled with a piece of cactus.”
Just late last week, Hilliard was taken to the hospital due to difficulty in breathing even though he had no underlying medical problems, his family said. He was treated and eventually released.
On Saturday, Hilliard went to Mount Rubidoux with other pledges of the fraternity for a supposed “day run.” His family wasn’t aware what happened next until paramedics were called again when he allegedly started having trouble breathing. He was rushed to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
The autopsy results are still pending but police are “conducting an investigation as a suspicious death at this point,” Riverside Police spokesman Ryan Railsback said. “We are looking into concerns the family has about possible hazing.”
UC Riverside has released a statement on his death: “The UC Riverside community grieves the loss of our student Tyler Hilliard. We’ve shared our condolences and offer of support with Tyler’s family and have made counseling services available to students, faculty, or staff who knew him. UCR Student Affairs and UCPD are collaborating with the Riverside Police Department to determine the circumstances regarding Tyler’s passing.”
Alpha Phi Alpha’s national office also released a statement on Hilliard. “The Fraternity shares our deepest condolences to his family, loved ones, and the entire university community, as their loss is unimaginable,” organization Executive Director Jamie R. Riley said.
The national organization has placed the Riverside chapter on suspension pending the results of the investigation and is cooperating with the authorities.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been created to help Hilliard’s family with the funeral costs. It has since raised more than $5,000 of the $10,000 goal.