Police: Student’s death ‘suspicious’

Wren graduate found in Hartwell near Clemson campus

CLEMSON — The body of a 19-year-old Clemson University fraternity member recovered from Lake Hartwell on Monday afternoon is being treated as a “suspicious death,” and national fraternity officials are addressing hazing rumors.

According to school officials, sophomore Tucker W. Hipps of Piedmont was participating in an early-morning group activity run with his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers on Monday and did not return.

When Hipps did not show up for breakfast and fraternity members couldn’t find him, they reported him missing, officials said.

Oconee County coroner Karl Addis said Hipps’ body was found in approximately four to five feet of water and approximately nine feet from the nearest shoreline late Monday afternoon. Addis said Tuesday that Hipps died due to a head injury consistent with an unsupported fall.

“We are treating this as a suspicious death, just due to the nature of a body being found in the lake,” Oconee County sheriff Mike Crenshaw said. “That’s not a normal manner of death, so we treat it as suspicious until we can determine the manner and the cause.”

National Sigma Phi Epsilon senior communications manager Rob Jepson issued a statement Monday saying the fraternity was saddened to learn of Hipps’ death. A representative from the fraternity’s national office arrived at Clemson on Monday evening, according to the statement, and was working with university officials “to ensure that members of the chapter receive the support and counseling they need.”

According to the statement, fraternity officials were “aware of allegations being made through social media that the death was in some way linked to hazing.”

“SigEP has a zero tolerance policy regarding hazing and is currently investigating these claims,” the statement read.

Fraternity CEO Brian Warren addressed the allegations.

“We’ve lost the life of a young man, a life that was taken way too soon,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are hurting right now, and that’s our number one priority at the moment.

“But if foul play was involved in any way, Tucker’s fraternity will do everything it can to see that those responsible are brought to justice.”

According to Jepson, the national office asked the Clemson chapter to suspend all scheduled programming to focus on supporting those close to Hipps.

The Oconee sheriff’s office dive team recovered Hipps’ body from the Seneca River portion of the lake under the S.C. Highway 93 bridge around 5:15 p.m.

Crenshaw said investigators were interviewing many students, including fraternity brothers who had been running with Hipps.

Addis said Hipps’ head injury was consistent with him falling from the bridge, which he said was approximately 20 to 23 feet from the water’s surface.

“He was found in a depth of water of 4-5 feet; the lake bottom in the area he fell is formed with rip rap rock,” Addis said.

Addis issued no ruling on the manner of death pending the results of a toxicology analysis, which could take several weeks, and the law enforcement investigation.

Sheriff’s dispatch received a call at 3:44 p.m. after Clemson University police found Hipps’ body in the water under the bridge, sheriff’s office spokesman Jimmy Watt said. The body was near some rocks on the shore near the popular area called the YMCA Beach.

Dive team personnel received assistance from Clemson University Fire and EMS, as well as Clemson University police, Watt added.

According to Addis, a Clemson University police officer on patrol found the body after Hipps was reported missing to campus police Monday afternoon.

Hipps was a 2013 Wren High School graduate and a former South Carolina Boys State delegate.

Word of Hipps’ death spread quickly on social media, as students from universities around the Southeast expressed their grief and lent support to his loved ones. Many planned to wear orange or Boys State shirts in his honor on Tuesday.

The S.C. Boys State organization released a statement after Hipps’ death Monday night.

“As a Boys State family, we are deeply saddened at the loss of one of our fellow brothers, Tucker Hipps,” the statement read. “Tucker exemplified the best qualities and characteristics of the Boys State program. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and the entire Boys State family.”

A candlelight vigil was planned at Bowman Field on Tuesday night.