SYCAMORE – Gary Bogenberger sobbed as he talked about the emotional devastation the loss of his son, David, had caused his family.
Bogenberger and his wife each in turn addressed a packed DeKalb County courtroom Friday after 22 former Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members received their sentences in connection with the death of their son after a hazing ritual.
“You didn’t just share a drink with him,” said Gary Bogenberger, who at times covered his face with his hands. “You planned an event that was abusive, humiliating, degrading and endangering for David and his fellow pledges. You didn’t care one iota for David’s or the other pledges’ well-being, but rather only for your own self-gratification in seeing David demeaned and incapacitated to the point of death.”
More than two years after 19-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman David Bogenberger’s death Nov. 2, 2012, the fraternity members present at the unsanctioned party where he died received sentences requiring community service and fines – and no jail time.
Of all the defendants, only Patrick Merrill, 22, of Boston, the former fraternity secretary, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor.
Four others facing felony charges – Alexender Jandick, 23, of Naperville, the former fraternity president; James Harvey, 23, of Northfield, the former vice president; Steven Libert, 23, of Naperville, and Omar Salameh, 24, of Burbank, the former pledge adviser – pleaded not guilty.
They were found guilty by DeKalb County Judge Thomas Doherty in a bench trial where they admitted to the facts presented by the state.
The five found guilty of reckless conduct must perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.
Seventeen other men were found guilty of misdemeanor hazing charges and sentenced to 100 hours community service and a $500 fine. All of the 22 men were also given 24 months of conditional discharge, a nonreporting form of probation.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack said it was the largest hazing prosecution in U.S. history.
“It would be fair to say that this was an agreement,” Schmack said. “The people who were charged with felonies were convicted of misdemeanors which will remain on their record.”
It will be possible for the men to eventually leave the case behind them, however.
“If someone completes the sentence of court supervision doing everything they were ordered to do and also doesn’t get into any other sort of trouble for two years ... they become eligible to expunge it from their record,” Schmack said.
Schmack also expressed his sympathy for the Bogenberger family.
“I’m pleased that the largest hazing prosecution in the history of the United States is culminated with findings of guilt against all those who stood accused,” Schmack said, “and that they have chosen to take a degree of responsibility for their part in this unspeakable tragedy.”
In brief remarks after the sentencing, Gary Bogenberger said he hoped his son’s death would be a catalyst for change among the Greek system.
“This use of alcohol as a weapon of choice in fraternity hazings is getting out of hand,” he said. “I went to school back in the ‘60s, there was no alcohol poisoning in fraternity initiations, nothing. ... It’s accelerating. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s getting worse, and somehow, society has to figure a way to prevent that abhorrent behavior.”
The Bogenbergers have filed suit against the 22 men found guilty Friday, along with 16 women, the landlord for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, the NIU chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha and the national fraternity organization in Cook County court. A judge threw out the case late last year, but the family has appealed.
Ruth Bogenberger said she didn't sense any remorse on the part of the defendants Friday.
"No, nobody looked me in the eye," she said.
“I saw no contrition,” Gary Bogenberger added. “I’ve seen no acts of remorse.”
After the proceedings, Libert stood outside the courtroom with a misdemeanor defendant who refused to be identified.
“We all miss Dave,” Libert said.
Other former fraternity members declined to comment.
Gary and Ruth Bogenberger said David, one of three triplets, chose NIU because he liked its business school. It wasn’t far from his old neighborhood in Palatine, and a lot of his friends from Palatine High School went there, too.
“He was the kind of son that every mother wishes for,” Ruth Bogenberger said. “Very loving, very kind, very focused on building very strong friendships. He played sports up until sophomore year in high school, at which time he began more interested in the business education at his high school.”
Ruth Bogenberger said her son “wanted to be friends with everybody,” which was part of the reason he rushed Pi Kappa Alpha, known as the “Pikes.”
“He told me that it would help his business contacts after he graduated, and then he also mentioned the charitable work that they did,” she said.
When her son told her about joining the fraternity, she said she was concerned at first specifically about hazing.
“I asked him was this something that was going to go on,” she said. “Was there going to be hazing, because I had seen stories on various news programs about the dangers of hazing, and he told me that hazing wasn’t allowed at NIU. And in his mind, he believed that couldn’t happen.”
After the hearing, NIU spokesman Paul Palian released a written statement regarding hazing sentencing on behalf of the university.
“We empathize with the Bogenberger family and acknowledge their feelings in what has been found by the court to be a wrongful death,” it read. “We trust in the wisdom of the judicial system as pertains to these cases and again offer condolences to the family regarding this tragic loss.”
The Bogenberger’s attorney Peter Coladarci called for fraternities and sororities around the U.S. to abolish pledging.
“With respect to the defendants here today, they have learned, I think, an awful lesson about what the nature of fraternities and sororities and Greek life can be,” he said “And the pledging is one step in the right direction to prevent harms like this from ever happening again. They are run by adults, [but] these defendants, and David, as you saw today, were children.”
Ruth Bogenberger said more oversight is needed, particularly in Greek houses.
“You have young adults that apparently don’t understand or have chosen not to follow the education that they received about the dangers of binge drinking and hazing and so the only solution we need to see, the only thing we can really think of is oversight that would come from administration of the university and fraternities themselves.”