By Tammy Scileppi
As you read this story, perhaps you should ponder this question: Why did they do it?
He was a Queens teen with big dreams that would never come true. As a bright freshman attending Baruch College in Manhattan, Michael Deng had a promising future. Sadly, his desire to become a frat brother would forever alter the course of his young life.
Things went horribly awry after Pi Delta Psi fraternity brothers from the college blindfolded Deng during what turned out to be a brutal hazing ritual. Tragically, Deng died in December 2013 due to a traumatic brain injury — and other injuries — inflicted during a bizarre pledging ritual known as the ‘glass ceiling.’ While carrying a 30-pound backpack, the unsuspecting victim was tackled and intentionally slammed to the ground until he was unconscious.
Deng never got up and medics declared him brain dead.
Fraternity members at Pi Delta Psi — which had identified itself as “an Asian-American Cultural Fraternity” founded in 1994, with a mission “to spread Asian-American Cultural awareness” — tried to cover up their senseless crime, but later admitted that they did physically abuse the poor 19-year-old.
As the disturbing story started to unravel, it was hard to believe those involved in the crime waited an entire hour before calling police for help, while the helpless young man lay dying in their rented house in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, 100 or so miles from the college and a world away from his family.
Deng was the last of several pledges to be hazed that terrible weekend.
The sadistic hazing prank made national headlines over the years, and back in January four of Deng’s frat brothers (and the fraternity itself) had received sentencing. They finally got the justice they deserved after the four long years it took detectives to investigate Deng’s tragic death.
When police arrived at the house where the incident occurred, 22 young men emerged from the basement. Deng’s condition worsens as the day wears on, while the men spew lies and spin partial truths when questioned.
Will investigators ever unveil the tight web of secrecy, to get to the bottom of what exactly happened to Deng?
If true crime buffs would like to find out, they should watch the upcoming episode of “The Real Story with María Elena Salinas: Deadly Brotherhood,” which airs Monday, July 9, from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.
The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist sits down for exclusive interviews with the Poconos Mountain Police Department detectives and Assistant District Attorney Kim Metzger, who led the years-long investigation that ultimately unearthed the fraternity’s cover-up.
As she does in every compelling episode, Salinas peels back the many layers of yet another puzzling homicide case, like this one, which viewers can help solve along with detectives.
“This story was impactful for me personally because I have college-age daughters and understand the pressures that young people feel to fit in. Unfortunately for Michael Deng, that desire to be accepted turned deadly,” said Salinas. “Hazing is wrong, but it’s nothing new. What is new is that finally the fraternity brothers were held accountable. Let’s hope this first ever conviction of a fraternity will fend off future tragedies.”
In Deng’s murder case, both the verdict and sentencing have been described as “groundbreaking,” according to one expert.
Pi Delta Psi was found guilty “on a felony count of involuntary manslaughter and assault, among other charges, though it was acquitted of the more serious charges of third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter,” according to a January 2018 CNN report on the case. “The national fraternity was ordered to pay a $112,500 fine for the 2013 hazing death of pledge Chun ‘Michael’ Deng.”
Five men were arraigned on murder charges, while four individuals were also sentenced after pleading guilty this past November, “to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter and hindering apprehension in Deng’s death, which was determined to be the result of a hazing ritual.”
During the trial, surprise witness Daniel Li, who faced third-degree murder charges along with those four frat brothers from Baruch, revealed that the fraternity’s national office “knew very well” hazing was going on. He said it also encouraged pledges to lie to police, according to a 2015 DailyMail story.
“His back hit the ground. He did not get up. He was making slight, groaning sounds,” said Li, who witnessed Deng’s horrific final hazing moments.
Also, the article indicated that “College officials denied knowing that the event was taking place, and subsequently banned the fraternity from its campus.”
In addition to Li, Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, and Sheldon Wong — all from Queens — had faced third-degree murder charges in Deng’s death. The piece also noted that “some of those charged were accused of hindering apprehension, hazing and criminal conspiracy.”
Surprisingly, those previously charged include Andy Meng, the then-head of Pi Delta Psi nationwide and brother of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing).
Salinas familiarizes viewers with the backstory of each case, and as its intriguing highlights begin to unfold, she introduces herself and says, “For over three decades as an investigative journalist, I’ve dedicated my career to search for the truth – uncovering corruption, denouncing injustice and digging deep for evidence, so that I can tell you… the real story.”
Then, the story begins. And you’ll surely feel as if you’re part of the riveting investigation.