Live

Watch CBSN Live

Fraternity pledge's parents claim "cover-up" over death

Sophomore fraternity pledge Tucker Hipps was found dead last September at the edge of a lake
Sophomore fraternity pledge Tucker Hipps was ... 03:36

Investigators looking into the death of Clemson University sophomore fraternity pledge Tucker Hipps say their case is at a standstill. Hipps was found dead last September near a lake after participating in a run with other students.

Now his parents are suing the university and a fraternity over the death of their son and allege a cover-up, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Cindy and Gary Hipps filed two civil suits, seeking $50 million in damages against the university, the fraternity and three of its members. Those suits allege there was a fatal confrontation on the bridge.

They claim text messages reveal the fraternity members ordered Hipps to show up with food for everyone. He arrived empty-handed, and they allegedly were angry.

cindy-hug-tucker.jpg
Tucker Hipps with mother, Cindy Hipps family

"We believe they know and they're refusing to tell it. I guess you can call that a cover-up," Gary said.

Nineteen year-old Hipps, a Clemson pre-law student, was their only child.

"It never crossed my mind that we would be sitting here today, sending him off to college, that he would never come home," Cindy said.

The couple has spent six months grieving the death of their son.

"He was always into everything. He always wanted to be the center of attention when he was in school," Cindy said.

Did he jump? Was he pushed? Investigators say they've explored every possible explanation, but have reached a dead end.

On September 22, three fraternity members and 27 pledges, including Hipps, met at Clemson's Donaldson Hall at 5:30 a.m. The pledges and brothers at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity went for a group run.

Hipps, the others later reported, lagged behind on the run and never made it to breakfast. At 1 p.m. that day, they notified campus police he was missing and that afternoon, Hipps's body was discovered lying in rocky, shallow water.

"Once they brought the body up from the lake and had it on the stretcher, then they allowed us to come and look at him," Cindy said.

She said it was "probably the worst moment of (her) life."

"Because I can still see his face," Cindy said. "I wake up at night and I have all the good memories of him. But I have that memory."

A coroner ruled Hipps died from "blunt force trauma" consistent with a "downward head-first falling injury."

He fell 25 feet to his death, but no one else on that run claimed to have seen it.

How could 29 kids lose track of their son? "That's the million dollar question," Cindy said.

"That somehow Tucker's running with 30-something people and all of a sudden he's off the side of a bridge, dead. And that's all we know about it," Gary added. "Even the most simple-minded person, that's just absolutely ridiculous. And we never believed it for a minute."

In a statement, Clemson said it "has cooperated with authorities." The school "denies the allegations of the lawsuit... but cannot comment further."

Sigma Phi Epsilon's attorney said the fraternity will "search for the truth" and added the allegations, "have not been substantiated."

Clemson said the fraternity was guilty of a series of violations unrelated to Hipp's death, and suspended the chapter for five years in February. Hipps' parents say they want two things: the truth, and change in the collegiate safety culture.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.