On Monday afternoon, Clemson University sophomore Tucker Hipps was reported missing by the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. A few hours later police spotted him floating in a lake under a bridge and retrieved his body. He was pronounced dead just after 5 p.m. The question that members of the Clemson community now want answered is whether fraternity brothers were responsible for his death.
Tucker was participating in an early-morning group activity run with fraternity members. He didn't return from the run and wasn't at breakfast, so they began looking for him. Members of the fraternity contacted the Clemson University Police Department to report him missing at 1:45 p.m. Monday.
Oconee County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jimmy Watt said Hipps was on a voluntary pledge run with about 30 other pledges and brothers of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity when he began to fall behind the group.
What happened next is not known because Watt said no one saw Hipps fall into Lake Hartwell from the Highway 93 bridge that crosses over the Seneca River portion of the lake.
The official story is clear enough to absolve Sig Ep and its members of culpability—at least at this early stage—but still vague to the point that many Clemson students have alleged that Hipps died because of hazing. (The run, according to police, took place around 5:30 a.m.)
To that end, Oconee County police have acknowledged the accusations while still maintaining that hazing was not the cause of Hipps' death. But the case is still decidedly open—in a USA Today article on the incident from late Tuesday night headlined "Clemson weeps as questions linger in student's death," Sheriff Mike Crenshaw says his office is still investigating the matter.
Those "questions" that USA Today is referring to are not just the routine police work of tying up loose ends. Clemson's social media networks are currently embroiled in discussion over whether Hipps died because of frat hijinks. It is not hard to find Clemson students on Twitter matter-of-factly stating that Hipps died because of hazing.
I hope that sig ep feels awful that because their hazing has resulted in the death of their "brother"
— Auztin (@troyauztin) September 22, 2014
Why has no action been taken against Sig Ep? Tucker died because of pledge hazing.
— Kimberley Owen (@KMoney865) September 23, 2014
In light of everything that has happened with Tucker I hope that everyone takes a real look at hazing... It is NEVER okay. #TuckerTuesday
— Kelsey Wylie (@KelseyWylie) September 24, 2014
@PanthersAnon some kid named Tucker Hipps. I heard it was frat hazing, found his body in a lake.
— KIRK COUSINS DA GAWD (@cmurderdagawd) September 23, 2014
But the real debate is happening on an anonymous location based app called Yik Yak, which is something like a cross between a traditional message board and 4chan. Like 4chan, posters don't have usernames and threads self-destruct in reverse-chronological order as newer threads are added. But like a traditional message board the content of Yik Yak is text-based and mostly banal—the app is popular on college campuses, and Clemson's page is mostly filled with kids complaining about this class or that walk across campus.
But ever since Monday, it has been flooded with yaks about Hipps' death. The majority of yaks about Hipps opine that his death was caused by Sig Ep, which has incited it own backlash from pro-Greek factions. Here is some of what you'll find if you open Yik Yak and "peek" at Clemson's page:
Of course, this is all just speculation—it's impossible to tell which yaks are opinion and which are based on rumors, and it's even harder to know which, if any, of the rumors are founded. But it's clear, at least, that Clemson students are split on the university's official explanation regarding Hipps' death.
Yesterday Clemson suspended activities for all 24 fraternities on campus. Hipps' death seems to obviously be the catalyst for that decision, but in its statement the university noted that "there has been a high number of reports of serious incidents involving fraternity activities" this semester "ranging from alcohol-related medical emergencies to sexual misconduct." Another thing you can read on Yik Yak, which is elucidated in this message board post on Clemson forum Tigernet, is that the main allegation of "sexual misconduct" alluded to in that statement stems from a rumored incident at a Sig Ep party in which a girl claims that she was sexually assaulted after being drugged. (That accusation has not been publicly verified and no one seems to have been charged.)
Fraternity life has been placed in a crucible in American society recently, and even if Sig Ep is officially cleared of any wrongdoing, the specter of Hipps' death will loom over the Greek community at Clemson. Just a few weeks ago, the possibilities seemed much more open.
My pledge brothers tho>>
— Tucker Hipps (@TuckerHipps5) September 6, 2014
If you know anything regarding Hipps' death, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
[photo via Facebook]