‘Adam had a big heart’: Family, university respond to death of VCU freshman

Adam Oakes with his mom, Linda Oakes. Photo courtesy of the Oakes family

Sahara Sriraman, Contributing Writer

Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old VCU freshman, was found dead this past Saturday at a residence on West Clay Street. His family says a Delta Chi fraternity hazing event resulted in Adam’s death.

Courtney White, Adam’s cousin, said Adam had a huge heart and was a nurturer, which set him apart from other teenagers. Whenever someone left a room, Adam would say, “I love you,” White said.

“He would light up the room when he walked in,” White said. “He gave you giant bear hugs.”

During his first year as a college student, Adam wasn’t involved with any groups or activities besides Delta Chi, White said. He rushed the fraternity to get the “full college experience,” she said — much of his senior year at Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun County was disrupted by COVID-19.

VCU sent a university-wide statement, written by the Senior Vice Provost Charles Klink, on Tuesday stating it will review Greek life on campus to make recommendations about how fraternities and sororities operate.

“VCU is dedicated to acting now, and will be ready to do more pending outcomes of the police investigation,” the release stated. “The university continues to work with Adam’s family and will always keep Adam, his family and friends in our hearts.”

Eric Oakes, Adam’s father, said his son loved VCU, especially given the close proximity to his hometown of Sterling, Virginia. Although all of Adam’s classes were online this semester, he still wanted to live on campus, Eric Oakes said.

“He’s an only child, so he was seeking that social piece of finding his place and finding his brothers and that was what he was looking for when he tried to join Delta Chi,” White said.

Delta Chi interviewed Adam for the fraternity on Feb. 19, Eric Oakes said. Four days later, on Feb. 23, the fraternity notified Adam of his acceptance into the organization. The big-little party, where all newly accepted members get together with existing members, was scheduled for this past Friday. 

“He was so excited when he got accepted, he just had a ‘somebody wants me’ kind of feeling,” Eric Oakes said.

White said suspending the Delta Chi chapter at VCU is not an adequate response because the members of the fraternity are not being punished.

“They’re still drinking, they’re still having a good time, while my cousin is dead,” White said. “He will never get that experience back.” 

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Authorities identified Adam at an “off-campus residence,” according to a VCU release. Richmond Police stated the location was on the 100 block of West Clay Street, although they have not given an address. White tweeted that Adam was found at 138 W. Clay Street. That address is roughly six blocks away from the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art.

White wants VCU to stop using the phrase “off-campus” because Delta Chi is still affiliated with the university, she said. If it wasn’t part of on-campus life, Adam’s father wouldn’t have let him join because he wouldn’t have thought it was safe, White said.

Fraternities and sororities affiliated with VCU help their members meet new people on campus and are funded by the university. According to RamsConnect, becoming part of Greek life “is a great way to enhance your college experience.”

White and Eric Oakes said their goal is not to encourage people to push for the disbanding of all Greek life, but rather to take away the unsafe aspects.

“Why not make alcohol not a part of it?” White said. “So, get your big, get your little, do the fun things that are always associated with fraternities and sororities, but take the alcohol and the hazing out of it.” 

Adam’s family said universities should strengthen alcohol regulations and take action to ensure Greek life organizations are following them. 

Potomac Falls High School tweeted about Adam, stating he will be missed by the school’s community. 

“Adam had a big heart and was loved by all who had the chance to know him,” the school stated. “He made an indelible mark on our school & community.”

Adam’s family is appreciative of the help VCU students have been providing through social media, including organizing petitions and spreading screenshots of conversations from members of the fraternity.

“They’re utilizing all these tools to get us justice, and we can’t thank everybody enough,” White said. “You are a wonderful community, and we are so happy Adam was a part of it.”

Eric Oakes and White said they hope people will come forward if they have any information regarding Adam’s death.

“If you know something, if you were there, if you have something, please reach out to us,” Eric Oakes said. “Please, please, we need to know what happened, and we’re not going to sit by and let this go by unanswered.” 

A spokesperson from the Richmond Police Department said that as this is an ongoing investigation, the department can’t disclose any new information besides what was included in its initial release.

Officers were called to the scene at about 9:16 a.m. After they arrived, they found Adam lying on the ground and unresponsive. The officers pronounced him dead at the scene. 

A medical examiner is currently working to determine the cause of death.

Anyone who has any information about this case can call Major Crimes Detective Michael Gouldman at 804-646-3915 or anonymously contact Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000.


  1. Your reporting is great. However, it’s important that you look closely at what VCU means by “independent investigation” since, time and again, universities fail to review all of the relevant facts and issues involving fraternity mismanagement due, in part, to the fact that the fraternity industry hides and does not disclose its risk management histories and insurance loss data. This means that universities, newspapers and such are deprived of the very facts they need to determine the scope of the problems within this industry (not just at a single campus), the long-standing patterns of why the industry’s risk-management strategies fail and, in the end, why so many people have, for decades, died or suffered traumatic injuries from fraternity hazing, the abuse of alcohol and other fraternity misconduct. Tragically, Eric’s death is by no means an anomaly. Rather, it is one of a long line of deaths demonstrating very real flaws with the chapter self-management model, the failure by fraternities, unlike sororities, to go “dry,” as opposed to entrusting underaged members to “manage” the use and provision of substances they are prohibited by law to consume, the failure by fraternities and universities to be open and honest about the risks facing young men (see VCU’s current website, a pure promo piece for Greek life, that, among other misleading information, falsely claims that fraternities have learned not to haze), and other well-documented problems revealed in the litigation against fraternities across the country. An investigation by anyone, independent, blue panel or otherwise, that fails to include the right people, and consider ALL relevant information, is of no value and will not help solve the problems at VCU or throughout the industry or bring this family the justice it so deserves.

    Douglas Fierberg
    The Fierberg National Law Group

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