October 26, 2005

For you Matt:

For those of us who are parents, all we want is what is best for our kids. We rear them to be the best they can be. It is our job as parents to protect them, teach them right from wrong, and to keep them from danger and harm. Matt was a wonderful person and a very kind boy. He was the product of a very loving environment and much more.

Although I have known Matt since he was a little baby, I remember him most as an instrumental part of the family campouts that we used to have at Lake Mc Swain and Lake Berryessa. He would always be the center of attention with the other kids, usually the younger children, because they looked up to him. My son was a few years younger than Matt, and he was one of those kids. He was very fortunate that he had the opportunity to grow up with Matt. Matt’s biggest fan though was his “Bro” Travis. Matt took such good care of Travis. They were inseparable. It was so cute to hear Travis talking about “Bro” and looking forward to being with him. My heart bleeds for Travis and the empty spot in his heart. I pray that it will someday heal.

When Matt was getting older, Greg and I used to tease him about girls and what a mandatory role they were going to be in his life. Matt would usually start with turning bright red, then cracking a huge smile. His head would dip, and then roll towards you looking up at you with the corner of his eye. Almost inviting more conversation but a little afraid to continue. He would then laugh and shrug off our comments. That was the kind of guy he was. Very friendly and could take a joke.

In February, we received some tragic news. We had received a phone call with the information that Matt had been in a series accident and could have possibly passed away. We scurried for more information, and when we received the full story from Debbie and Greg, my fears came true. From that moment on, the lives of my family were drastically changed. Matt was no longer with us.

I was so devastated to hear that he was in an accident that took his life. What accident? Was it a car wreck, or possibly a fatal injury? As the truth unveiled, I found out that Matt did not need to die. He placed his trust in others that did not come through for him. He was led astray for some silly prank that took his life.

That moment in time will last forever. This incident has forever changed so many people. Matt will never have the opportunity to have and rear his own children. He will not be able to make Greg, Debbie, and Mike proud Grand Parents. A young man that wanted to get a good education to succeed in his own career goals is now removed from the game. He will never be able to sit with Travis and look at Baseball cards, go camping and fishing, and cheer on those 49ers that the whole family loved so much. He was robbed. Robbed for what? An initiation into a club of “Brothers”. Brothers who in the end decided not to get help for their Fraternal Pledge. What could of been more important that helping someone in distress? Especially when you were part of the cause.

We need to look at the whole situation and wonder why and how could this even happen. Placing young men in a basement drinking water and exercising. I firmly believe that Matt thought that no harm would come of him. Primarily because his thoughts may have been that water cannot hurt you. I also believe that his so-called “Brothers” did know the results of their actions. That evening in February did take a “Brother”: a brother in life, a brother to Travis, and a great human being.

I will not pray for imprecation, but I do pray that the parties responsible for this tragedy will wake up everyday with the thought of Matt’s face in their minds and in their hearts. There is no reason that anyone seeking an education in any part of this world should have Fraternal Hazing as an obstacle to deal with. It should not be an option for students to ponder. With the persistence and drive that Matt’s family has against hazing, Matt did not die in vain. This awareness may save another life. Although the way he died was pointless, we need this tragedy to set the stage for all other hazing penalties to follow. By doing so, we can bring this entire episode to a higher sense of awareness. I would love to see Hazing carry a substantial prison sentence with zero tolerance. We need to stop this death ritual and save our kids.

Rich Smith