On the morning of February 2, 2005 my family’s life was shattered. I received a phone message from our cousin Carol that there had been a tragedy in the family and to call her back right away. It was obvious something horrible had happened. I called her back and ended up speaking to her husband Marco. Marco told me that Matt had been found dead in his bed in Chico. I couldn’t believe it. I asked Marco for more information but he was so upset he couldn’t speak on the phone any longer. What could have happened? Matt wasn’t one to drink or smoke or do drugs so what could have caused him to die in his bed. All I could think of was his family, our cousins. Then I realized I would have to be the one to tell my husband and children that Matt was gone.

I met Matt when he was in diapers. His Mom and our cousin Greg were friends and when they started dating we spent a lot of time together as friends and as relatives. Matt was a great boy. He was polite and friendly and was a pleasure to be around. We had recently moved to the East Bay and I was looking for day care for my son and Debbie offered to watch him since she was home taking care of Matt. What a relief knowing that Brian would be well taken care of by Debbie and have a “big brother” friend to play with him. Brian spent the first couple years of his life with Matt every day. Imagine having to tell my son that Matt was gone. Again, nothing compared to what Debbie was going through, but traumatic all the same.

We spent a lot of time together over the years on any number of social occasions as well as camping, family reunions and BBQ’s. Matt was always great about hanging around with the younger kids and playing with them. When Greg and Debbie had Travis I think Matt was so thrilled because he had his “Bro”. Even though there is a large age difference between them they were very close. Matt didn’t mind having his little brother tagging along and always acted as his protector. I cannot imagine what Travis will have to go through to learn to deal with his loss. His Big Bro is gone and at a time in his life where growing up is already difficult. I pray for him that he will find the strength to go on.

Of course over the next couple of days we started to learn about the events that led up to Matt’s passing. How can you deal with the senseless nature of what happened? Young men pledging to help each other and be there for each other through thick and thin yet they didn’t have the courage to contact the authorities when one of them was so obviously in trouble. Nothing can bring Matt back, but, the activities that led to his death have got to be stopped. The only way to do this is to have the punishment fit the crime.

I have heard a number of people comment; why didn’t Matt just walk away? Why would he be involved in something so dangerous? Matt was a very bright kid. I don’t think he had a clue that drinking that much water or staying in those conditions for the period of time he was kept there could have a permanent effect on him. However I think the other participants did know. When I heard what had happened in that basement that night the first thought I had was “that was torture”. Where else can you take someone into an environment that they cannot get out of and be allowed to treat them like that?

Unlike an accident, where there is no planning and something just happens causing a young person to lose their life, this can be totally prevented. Totally. Any one of the participants could have called 911 when Matt had his seizure. I am completely convinced had Matt been one of the brothers instead of a pledge he would have had the courage to stand up and make the call. Instead we have lost a person with that type of character because of the lack of character of those participating members of Chi Tau.

I want you and everyone else, especially those directly involved, to understand that this “mistake” or “misjudgment” on the part of the participants has caused extreme pain and loss to all those who knew and loved Matt. Our family will forever be changed because of this loss. Debbie his mother, Greg his father, Mike his father, Travis his brother, Lois his grandmother, Ken his grandfather, Carol his Aunt, Marco his Uncle, Gloria his Aunt, Tracy his Cousin, Troy his Cousin, Richard his Uncle, Glen his Uncle, Sharon his Aunt, Doris his Aunt, Dennis his Uncle, Catherine his Cousin, Gino his Cousin, Nick his Cousin, Angelina his Cousin, Richard his Cousin, Myself, Brian his Cousin and Carter his Cousin. These are just the few relatives on our side of the family. Debbie’s family and all of Matt’s friends will miss him greatly.

I will close with a quick story about the effect that this has had on my immediate family. My son Brian is a Senior in High School and we have been having many discussions about college lately. My younger son, Carter, who is in third grade told Brian that he did not want Brian to go to college. When asked why, Carter told Brian that when you go to college you don’t come back – like Matt.

Margaret Smith