Home

This is Broken Pledge.
It is a story about fraternity hazing and the life and death of Collin Wiant, an 18-year-old student at Ohio University.

Collin, an honor-roll student with a flair for leadership, decided to join the Sigma Pi fraternity a month into his freshman year. But he never made it to the end of the pledging process.

In November 2018, Collin died after collapsing in the fraternity’s off-campus house. And when it came time to stand up for their pledge, Collin’s fraternity brothers instead chose a different path.

The case mirrors the dangers of hazing in Greek Life on college campuses across the nation. It’s a problem that continues to claim lives, endanger students and challenge the universities that haven’t been able to stop it.

BROKEN PLEDGE

Chapter 1: Brotherhood

Collin Wiant, like many college students, goes off to college looking for a place to belong on campus. But do they really know what they are getting into?

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

They beat him with belts.

They forced him to binge drink until he passed out, poured hot sauce on him and made him strip down to his underwear and play tackle football in a small room.

On the day Collin Wiant was buried, his parents didn’t know that their son had been a hazing victim for months.

They didn’t realize that the Sigma Pi pledge was lying down, gasping for air the night he died and that fraternity brothers waited to call for help. They didn’t understand how a high school honor student who wanted to change the world for the better was gone two months after enrolling at Ohio University.

Collin Wiant stands next to the family’s car in Dublin the morning of move-in day at Ohio University in August 2018. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Collin (right) and his roommate, Alex Porchinsky, pose together in their Ohio University dorm room on move-in day. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

In the past 15 years, there have been at least 80 deaths of college students connected to Greek life. Uncounted others have suffered mental or emotional scars from hazing while those who abused them likely will never face siginficant consequences.

That day, Nov. 17, 2018, Kathleen and Wade Wiant simply knew that their son’s body lay in the hearse ahead of them.

As their SUV rounded the curve near St. Charles Preparatory School, the Wiants were in awe of the scene outside Collin’s old school.

Lining the route were hundreds of boys dressed in blue blazers, heads tucked down, some wiping tears. Some made the sign of the cross while they honored or said goodbye to their friend and classmate.

“Oh, my God,” said a sobbing Kathleen Wiant. “How beautiful.”

A few of Collin’s fraternity brothers from the university in southeastern Ohio also attended the service.

They barely knew Collin, but they had promised him the brotherhood he sought.

The kind of childhood bond he already shared with his brother Aidan and wanted at the school in Athens that his parents once attended and loved.

There were the fun parties, watching games together, good-natured trash talk and the promise to support him during his four years in Athens.

But then the pledging process turned dark.

And in the wake of Collin’s death, those who pledged to protect him were left to ask themselves whether they did or didn’t do something that contributed to him being in that hearse.

Collin was a strapping kid, big on athletics and working out. As a teenager, he counted calories, grams of protein and reps in the gym. But he also was known to eat an entire package of Oreo cookies and down a gallon of milk. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Chapter 2: The Pledge

Lured into a world that’s hard to escape, fraternity pledges are sold on brotherhood, status, girls and all that comes with being in an elite fraternity.

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

Before pledging to the Sigma Pi fraternity at Ohio University, Collin Wiant sent this text message to his girlfriend:

Screenshot courtesy of Brinley Zieg

Collin Wiant with his high-school girlfriend, Brinley Zieg. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Collin wanted the same brotherhood in college that he had experienced with his own brothers and his high school friends.

But even before he started the pledging process to become a member of the Sigma Pi fraternity, he knew there would be a price.

And Collin indicated he was willing to pay it.

It started with doing laundry for the fraternity brothers and making regular trips to the store to get food and cigarettes for them, an investigation later showed. He was summoned in the middle of the night to clean the bars and restaurants where members worked, causing him to miss classes. His grades suffered.

Photo courtesy of Brinley Zieg

But he liked the 59 active Sigma Pi brothers, and they liked him — so much so that they made Collin the pledge president and took him on their annual trip to Tennessee.

It was there, Collin later confided, that fraternity brothers punched him and beat him with belts, leaving welts and bruises. He said there was binge drinking, cocaine and Adderall, a drug typically used to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It all left him incoherent.

Pledges on college campuses across the nation are sold on brotherhood, status, girls and all that comes with life in an elite fraternity. But sometimes the process forces young men to become something they are not. They are trapped in something that can have consequences for the rest of their lives. Walk away and they are branded a coward. Stay and they must endure more than they can take.

Collin broke the code of silence and turned to his brother Aidan.

A baby picture of Collin and his younger brother Aidan on Sept. 26, 2002. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Collin with his sister Ava and brother Aidan. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

He told him he was scared.

He described his treatment by the brothers as torture and abuse.

He cried.

He just had to make it through to December, he said.

That’s when Collin would become an active fraternity member and recite a Sigma Pi creed that at the time, was filled with empty words for a broken pledge:

“I believe in Sigma Pi, a Fellowship of kindred minds, united in Brotherhood to advance Truth and Justice, to promote Scholarship, to encourage Chivalry, to diffuse Culture, and to develop Character, in the Service of God and Man; and I will strive to make real the Fraternity’s ideals in my own daily life.”

Chapter 3: The Downward Spiral

Collin Wiant is accused of sexual assault. His fraternity brothers take action but continue hazing. That triggers a descent that neither the university nor those closest to Collin saw. 

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

The morning after a Homecoming party at the Sigma Pi house, a college freshman returned to her dorm room and found two used condoms.

Her clothes were scattered in odd places in the room, and on her phone were texts from a number she didn’t recognize.

The texts, obtained by The Dispatch from police records, were from Collin Wiant.

“How did I meet you?” she asked.

“45 mill party” Collin responded, referring to the fraternity’s off-campus house.

“Did you walk me home,” she asked?

“Yeah,” Collin said.

“Did you have sex with me,” she asked?

“I am pretty sure,” Collin replied.

Both had drunk what the fraternity brothers and most students call “jungle juice” — a concoction of fruit juices, vodka and rum that at some previous parties had been spiked with Xanax, a prescription drug, according to police records. Police couldn’t determine whether it was spiked that night.

After drinking her second cup of the juice, the young woman told police she had no recollection of what happened that night.

Collin told police they had consensual sex.

The woman told police she was sexually assaulted.

Collin’s world was crumbling.

He was missing classes. He had broken up with his girlfriend.

Collin Wiant with his high-school girlfriend, Brinley Zieg. Photo courtesy of Brinley Zieg

He was drinking more and taking drugs to cope.

He was under investigation for allegations of sexual assault of a fellow student.

And the brutal hazing that had continued for weeks had taken a toll.

Screenshot courtesy of Brinley Zieg

There is little, if any, accountability within the process of pledging to a fraternity. Despite written rules, in most cases, no one from outside the groups check to see whether the punch is spiked with drugs or a pledge is being beaten with a belt.

And even if outsiders tried to investigate, they likely would face the code of silence witnessed in Collin’s situation and has been built over decades in Greek organizations.

Some of Collin’s fraternity brothers stood by him, but after the sexual assault allegation, the Sigma Pi chapter president suspended Collin from participating in formal pledge activities.

Collin’s dreams — all of them — were fading.

Collin and his parents, Kathleen and Wade, pose during a proud moment at his high school graduation at St. Charles Preparatory High School in June 2018. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Chapter 4: Regret

All along, someone could have prevented Collin’s death. In his final minutes, decisions made by those who swore brotherhood may have contributed to his demise. 

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

Collin Wiant took the small canister filled with nitrous oxide, inhaled, and within seconds fell backward onto a futon.

His face drained of color and he began to make noises that alarmed the three Sigma Pi fraternity brothers nearby.

He soon was gasping for air.

“He doesn’t look good,” said Corbin Gustafson, according to a statement he gave to a university investigator.

Corbin’s first call was to fraternity president Elijah Wahib.

He asked him if he should call 911.

Elijah told him to make the call.

But Corbin waited another nine minutes to make that call.

While they waited for help, Joshua Androsac, for the first time in his life, performed CPR on someone.

Joshua, who bought the “whippit” canister from which Collin had inhaled the gas, pressed down on Collin’s chest over and over. He was breathing into Collin’s mouth every 20 seconds.

Paramedics arrived within minutes at the unofficial, off-campus home of the Sigma Pi fraternity.

But it was too late to save him.

Collin Wiant sits in front of the Grotto at St. Charles Preparatory High School. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Collin died at an Athens hospital shortly after 3 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2018.

About two hours later, Kathleen Wiant was awakened by a knock on the door of her family’s home in Dublin. There stood two police officers and the suburban Columbus department’s chaplain.

In that moment, Kathleen knew that one of her children was dead.

The Dublin officers told her that Collin was gone. They were consoling, compassionate and heartbroken for the Wiants.

But they didn’t have the answers the family wanted.

How did this happen?

Who was with him when he died?

Was it a homicide?

The Dublin officers just didn’t know.

Collin with his parents, Kathleen and Wade. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

The Wiant brothers –– (from left) Aidan, Austin and Collin –– had a tight bond, one that Collin hoped to also find with his fraternity brothers at OU. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

Kathleen and her husband, Wade, suspected that it was connected to the fraternity. They didn’t know much about what had happened to Collin during the Sigma Pi pledging process, except that their son had become someone they didn’t recognize in three months.

“As I was made aware of the circumstances, I was angry, and that’s all I’ll say,” the chaplain said.

After the officers left, Kathleen and Wade woke their son Aidan with a gentle tap on the shoulder.

Kathleen told him that Collin had died at college.

Aidan froze, staring at the ceiling for 15 minutes.

Then he got on the phone with his older brother Austin, who lives in Chicago.

There were no words, only sobs.

The Wiant family –– (from left) Ava, Austin, Aidan, Collin, Oliva, Wade and Kathleen –– in December 2016. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

A few hours later, back in Athens, the Sigma Pi fraternity held an emergency meeting.

The members immediately made their pledges active members.

And by the end of the meeting, one thing was made clear by the leaders of Sigma Pi:

Collin’s death was Collin’s fault. Not Sigma Pi’s.

The Sigma Pi fraternity brothers declined to talk with The Dispatch for this story.

Chapter 5: Code of Silence

An emergency meeting before the funeral signals a path Collin’s Sigma Pi brothers will follow. And a brutal confession leads to a painful secret. 

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

Some of the Sigma Pi fraternity members stood in line at Collin Wiant’s funeral and waited to offer sympathy to his parents.

The brothers had to ask permission from Ohio University to attend the service after officials at the college in southeastern Ohio suspended the fraternity soon after Collin’s death.

They said little to Wade and Kathleen Wiant, except to offer respectful condolences for the loss of their son.

No one said a word to the Wiants about hazing.

Aidan, Austin, Kathleen’s parents Mary Jane and Michael, Collin and Olivia gathered in the family’s kitchen in the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant

The men of Sigma Pi had known Collin for only three months, but they liked his electric smile, big heart and generosity. They made him the pledge class president.

But back in Athens, with the fate of their fraternity at stake, some of the brothers had turned on Collin.

The narrative that developed was that Collin was drunk the night he died. He must have been high on drugs. He had been accused of sexual assault and likely wouldn’t have been allowed to return to the fraternity.

He was to blame for the whole mess.

“I didn’t kill this kid,” said Charlie Winovic, according to a school investigator who took his statement after Collin’s death. “None of the people in my house killed this kid, and I am mad at the school. Collin is a big boy, and he made multiple bad decisions.”

The coroner’s report later would show that Collin wasn’t drunk that night. He didn’t have drugs in his system, except a small trace of marijuana. And police never charged him with sexual assault.

The holidays were approaching, and with anger and despair enveloping them, the Wiants just wanted to get to a new year.

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day came and went.

The family was spending more time talking to lawyers about hazing and Collin than trying to celebrate the holidays.

And Aidan, Collin’s younger brother, was spiraling.

He blamed himself for Collin’s death. Blamed himself for not sharing Collin’s hazing secrets with his parents.

When he finally told them what he knew, months after Collin’s death, they embraced their youngest son and could feel his guilt start to fade.

Now it was time to honor the son they couldn’t bring back by doing whatever they could to combat hazing.

Collin thrived at St. Charles Preparatory High School in Bexley. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Wiant


Stories that inspire. Coverage that informs. Investigations that affect change. This is real news just when it’s needed most. Subscribe today.

Subscribe to The Columbus Dispatch.

Chapter 6: The Reckoning

In a disciplinary hearing before Ohio University officials, Collin Wiant’s brothers make one last stand to save their fraternity. 

Listen to the full six chapter series:
Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Tunein | RSS

This was the day the Sigma Pi fraternity would fight for its survival.

The brothers would go before an Ohio University disciplinary board to face 11 violations of the student code of conduct — allegations that they used hazing, hazing with brutality and harmful behavior.

The Sigma Pi brothers, those who pledged with Collin Wiant, were called one by one.

And one by one they recanted, disputed or said they forgot what they had told investigators on the Athens campus months earlier.

Hazing? There was no hazing. No one was punched or beaten with belts.

They said the investigator asked leading questions and had put words into their mouths.

Yeah, there was some heavy drinking and playing tackle football in boxers, but that was just “boys being boys.”

One admitted that he had talked with his Sigma Pi brothers about what he might say to the disciplinary board.

And they sounded frustrated and angry about having to answer questions about Collin Wiant’s death.

In the end, Ohio University officials had seen and heard enough.

They expelled the Sigma Pi fraternity.

The unofficial Sigma Pi annex sits quietly at 45 Mill St. in Athens, Ohio. Wangyuxuan Xu | For the Columbus Dispatch

But that decision would be far from the end for Collin’s parents, Kathleen and Wade Wiant, and their four other childern.

Collin’s younger brother, Aidan, has been through intense therapy to deal the loss of his brother.

Kathleen searched online for the best way to respond when someone asks how many children you have after one of your children dies.

Wade remains angry with his alma mater and himself for not doing more to save Collin.

They all are dealing with the anger and anguish in their own way.

They still seek answers that may never come.

They are doing what they can to ensure that other families won’t face this pain.

But no matter what happens with the criminal investigation, the family’s lawsuit against the fraternity, with the response by university or Greek organizations, or with any legislative action toward an end to hazing, nothing will bring back Collin.

Collin Wiant poses with his girlfriend Brinley Zieg. Photo courtesy of Brinley Zieg

ABOUT THE INVESTIGATION

A look at how Columbus Dispatch reporters reported on this investigation

To bring you this story, Dispatch reporters Sheridan Hendrix, Lucas Sullivan and Mike Wagner interviewed 12 people who knew Collin Wiant; two Ohio University administrators, including the dean of students, officials from both the Athens and Ohio University police departments, the Athens County prosecutor,  two private attorneys representing the Wiant family and two attorneys for members of Sigma Pi over an eight-month period

The Dispatch also obtained more than 200 pages of records and audio recordings, including 911 audio, police reports and emergency run sheets, text messages, investigator transcripts and audio from the investigation and disciplinary hearings at Ohio University that detailed statements made by members of Sigma Pi.

The reporting team also reviewed newspaper stories, national television programs and social media accounts of several people associated with Collin Wiant who were interviewed after his death.

Portions of the story about Collin’s life were recounted by people closest to him: his family, friends and girlfriend. The descriptions of Collin and his emotional state during certain periods, such as during the fraternity rush period, were described by those who were with him as they happened.

The details about his death were gathered from university documents, police reports, 911 audio and statements made by the men who were in the room when Collin died.

Descriptions of cities, towns and the Sigma Pi off-campus fraternity house were derived from the reporters’ observations during several visits to those locations.


The team
Sheridan Hendrix, narrator and reporter
Lucas Sullivan, executive director, writer and reporter
Mike Wagner, writer and reporter
Patrick Flaherty, podcast editor and audio engineer 
Rachel Kilroy, national projects designer
Kelly Lecker, assistant managing editor
Michelle Everhart, assistant managing editor
Alan Miller, editor


Stories that inspire. Coverage that informs. Investigations that affect change. This is real news just when it’s needed most. Subscribe today.

Subscribe to The Columbus Dispatch.