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Queens Chronicle

Nassau and PA probe Rosedale teen’s death

Family believes fraternity hazing drove Marquise Braham to suicide

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:30 am

Police in Nassau County and Altoona, Pa., are continuing to investigate the March 14 suicide of 18-year-old Rosedale resident Marquise Braham, whose family believes he may have killed himself in connection with alleged college fraternity hazing incidents.

Marquise, a student at Penn State Altoona, was an officer in the campus chapter of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

Family members have said in published reports that he may have been despondent over alleged hazing rituals when he jumped off the roof of the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale, LI.

Nassau County police declined to comment Tuesday on the status of their investigation, though a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the office has remained in contact with the police department and the Braham family.

Ron Heller, chief of the Logan Township Police Department in Pennsylvania, said that his department is working with Nassau County detectives.

He said the president of the Phi Sigma Kappa chapter and about 10 fraternity brothers have retained criminal defense attorneys.

One has indicated possible willingness to come in for an interview. The rest “aren’t talking,” Heller said.

Attorney Thomas Dickey, who is representing some fraternity members, said Tuesday that some of his clients were preparing to talk to investigators yesterday.

Internal investigations also are being conducted by Penn State University and the fraternity’s national office in Indianapolis.

Heller said Pennsylvania law does, under some circumstances, allow for homicide prosecutions in connection with suicides, such as when things like deception or duress might be involved. He also said the state has specific anti-hazing statutes.

Mike Paul, a spokesman for the Braham family, said they are convinced Marquise was troubled by hazing, referring to photos that the family has sent to investigators from his cell phone.

They also have sent the pictures, which allegedly show hazing incidents involving drugs and a real or simulated firearm, to police.

Paul said statements coming from fraternity sources and some defense lawyers involved have raised his suspicions.

Dickey told the Chronicle in a telephone interview on Tuesday that his clients are denying that any hazing was taking place.

“They say the investigations are ongoing. But then they say absolutely no hazing was going on whatsoever,” Paul said. “The investigations in Nassau and Pennsylvania are not over yet. How did they conclude that?”

Heller said school officials are cooperating fully. Paul, who said he has handled crisis management public relations for 25 years, recommended that fraternity members do the same.

“The truth bubbles to the top, the easy way or the hard way,” Paul said. Nevertheless, he said he expects those under investigation to deny everything and suggested there might be an effort on their part to smear Braham.

Paul said denials of even the very existence of hazing were absurd on their face.

“Almost all people believe that every fraternity, every sorority in America and perhaps in the world has some sort of hazing,” he said. “There is not one person who does not believe hazing was going on.”

Dickey is representing his clients for both any alleged involvement on Marquise’s death and the hazing allegations.

“What happened is very, very sad, because the fraternity brothers were very close to Marquise and liked him. And from information I have it appears he felt likewise,” Dickey said. “I’m bothered, though, by the way this started out with the fraternity under fire. It’s my position that we may never know why this kid did what he did. It seems to me to be a bit of a witch hunt. There always has to be someone to blame.”

He said there could be other personal reasons from Marquise’s life that could have prompted him to kill himself, and said some fraternity brothers were planning to share those with law enforcement yesterday.

“Let’s look at everything,” Dickey said.

He said he sees no way to connect fraternity members to his death in such a way as to allow a homicide charge; and that hazing, under Pennsylvania statutes, is a third-degree misdemeanor.

Phone messages left with the school’s administration and the Blair County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday were not returned.

In an email, Michael Carey, vice president of Phi Sigma Kappa’s national organization, said they have placed the Altoona chapter on suspension and are conducting their own investigation.

“We would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to Marquise’s family, friends, and all those affected by this tragedy. We share in your sadness,” he wrote. “We have advised local members to cooperate with the campus investigation and provide as much information as they can.”

Carey wrote that it would be improper to comment or speculate on the validity of any allegations of hazing or misconduct of the chapter until they have been fully investigated.

Marquise’s Facebook page shows pictures dating back to when he was a little boy. Some friends called him “Keys.”

He worked at Sensational Kids, a Queens-based organization that works with children who have some speech, language or emotional issues from the very young to teens in a day camp setting.

His page also contained a growing list of friends, family members and acquaintances leaving their memories of him, and their condolences for his family.

The website of Kellenberg High School in Uniondale, L.I., where Marquise was a member of the Class of 2013, asked for prayers for him and his family.

It said his wake will be Thursday, and Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Park Funeral Chapel at 2175 Jericho Tpke. in Garden City.

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