PULLMAN, Wash. — John and Colleen Tyler of Redmond are speaking out for the first time about the death of their 19-year-old son Luke Tyler, a Washington State University (WSU) freshman, who was found dead in his dorm room six weeks ago.
The parents said they've gathered information showing hazing at WSU’s Theta Chi fraternity contributed to their son’s death by suicide.
“He wanted to belong, and we believe the rituals that were part of this fraternity had dangerous components that added to his adverse mental and physical health,” said Colleen Tyler, Luke’s mom.
Last week the Whitman County Coroner confirmed Luke Tyler's cause of death was acute intoxication due to the combined effects of alcohol and bupropion. Bupropion is also known as Wellbutrin, a commonly prescribed medication to treat depression. Police sources said Luke Tyler attended a party at Theta Chi the night before his death. His parents said they had no idea he was taking anti-depressants, but they learned he ordered them through an online pharmacy after beginning college.
“Every day is a new day to just realize he’s gone again, Colleen Tyler said. “Suicide was just the furthest thing from our mind.”
The family said Luke Tyler never showed signs of depression and there was no indication of mental health issues prior to moving to WSU.
“I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t understand why," said John Tyler, his father. "The family was full of love, direction. So when I heard (about suicide) it didn’t make any sense."
The parents and friends who spoke to KING characterized Luke Tyler as a compassionate person, eager to launch his college career. He valued fitness and wanted to become a physical therapist. A year before going to college he entered a bodybuilding competition and won it. Luke Tyler loved boating and taught sailing to children in Seattle. He participated in rowing and lacrosse. He won the Best Peer Coaching Award for helping students with disabilities at Woodinville High School. At WSU, his parents said he was earning all A’s and B’s in his courses.
“It’s just such a dichotomy between the bright, healthy man that we sent to WSU and in a very, very short amount of time, to being depressed, to needing anti-depressants and taking his life that way," Colleen Tyler said. "It doesn’t make any sense."
In August, Luke Tyler pledged the Theta Chi fraternity at Washington State. His parents said he was excited about becoming a member. After his death, they said friends came forward with disturbing information, including Snapchat messages showing Luke Tyler was struggling with hazing at the fraternity.
“What he expressed to his friends was that (hazing) did push him to his breaking point,” Colleen Tyler said. “Fraternity life was a big part of his life and what he shared with people he trusted was that it was affecting him, physically and mentally affecting him.”
A few of those friends posted a petition on change.org in January, calling for the University to “shut down” Theta Chi. “(Luke’s) death directly followed a long and cruel pledging process allowed by his fraternity,” wrote the petition authors. “Their inhumane and cruel hazing forced Luke and many others to do things nobody should ever be forced to do. We demand Theta Chi be investigated.”
Criminal and conduct investigations
The Washington State University Police Department is investigating Luke Tyler's death.
The Pullman Police Department has opened an investigation that is “indirectly related to the WSU (Police Department’s) death investigation and is focused on circumstances outside the WSU campus,” wrote Pullman Police Department Commander Aaron Breshears in an email. Sources confirm for KING 5 that Pullman Police are investigating whether crimes occurred related to hazing and providing alcohol to minors.
This week, the University’s Center for Community Standards issued a Notice of Investigation to Theta Chi. The Center is responsible for investigating student conduct violations. According to the Student Engagement Services website, the school is investigating allegations of hazing, providing alcohol to minors, reckless endangerment, and violations of university policy, rules, or regulations.
The same website lists three alcohol-related incidents since 2018 where the school-sanctioned Theta Chi for conduct violations. None of the incidents involved allegations of hazing.
The university's response
“We are grieving the loss of Luke Tyler, a first-year student at WSU Pullman, and we extend our deepest condolences to Luke’s family, friends, classmates and fellow Cougs,” wrote WSU Chancellor Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton and WSU President Kirk Schulz in a statement to KING 5.
“Part of what makes WSU special is our close-knit, family-like atmosphere," top university officials wrote. "When tragedies strike and we lose a member of that family, it causes ripples throughout our community. WSU has absolutely no tolerance for hazing. We review all claims through our community standards processes and if we determine that hazing has occurred, we hold the individuals and organizations involved accountable for their actions.”
“We do want answers," Colleen Tyler said. "We want the truth."
“We lost our son," John Tyler said. "So I think if anything (the school, police and the fraternity) might want to try to figure this out for the other kids. We’ve already lost. But there are still more kids.”
The Theta Chi national organization, headquartered in Indiana, sent a statement saying they are waiting for the results of the investigations.
“Theta Chi Fraternity is deeply saddened by the passing of Luke Tyler,” wrote Dalton Fischer, Theta Chi director of communications and information. “We expect all Theta Chi members to cooperate with the authorities and WSU.”
The Tylers said they felt sending their child to WSU was one of the safest choices they could make - because of a tragedy on Greek Row three years ago. In 2019,19-year-old Sam Martinez of Bellevue died from acute alcohol poisoning after an Alpha Tau Omega pledge party. Pullman Police determined hazing led to Martinez' death. Several fraternity members were charged in the case.
In response, state law was changed to require schools to report all fraternity infractions and sanctions on each school’s website. “Sam’s Law,” as it is officially called, also called for more hazing training on all college campuses in the state of Washington.
"I thought that when you think about it, after Sam died, I would expect that the school, the Greek system, would be implementing stronger policies," Colleen Tyler said. "So yeah, we trusted them. We trusted WSU. We trusted the Greek system with our son. Something has to change. Something has to stop.”
University officials have assigned “supportive/protective measures” to Theta Chi while the Center for Community Standards' investigation takes place. During this time the fraternity is not allowed to host parties, meetings, gatherings, or programming, according to Phil Weiler, WSU vice president of university marketing and communications.
A celebration of life for Luke Tyler will be held on Saturday in Kirkland.