Two families who lost sons due to alleged hazing incidents at college fraternities have united to offer each other support as they both heal, and are together fighting for changes at the university and legislative level to make sure no other family has to suffer the same tragedy.
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The mother of a Penn State University sophomore who died in February 2017 after falling head-first down a flight of stairs during a night of drinking as part of a pledge ceremony said she still hasn't done her son's laundry in the year after his death.
“I never bothered to do his laundry, the hamper is still in his room from college,” Evelyn Piazza, the mother of Timothy Piazza, 19, told ABC News' Michael Strahan. “I'll go in there and I'll hug a sweatshirt.”
Rae Ann Gruver, the mother of Max Gruver, 18, a freshman at Louisiana State University who died in September 2017, following an alleged hazing incident he participated in while pledging at a fraternity, described the months since her son's death as "horrible," saying that her family has been taking it "day by day."
"Max's birthday was a couple weeks ago," she added. "That was really hard on all of us."
'We felt an immediate connection'
Although the families of the two students were brought together by tragedy, they said their friendship is helping them each to cope with the losses.
"When we read the story about Max ... we felt an immediate connection with the family and wanted to meet them,” Jim Piazza, Timothy's father, told ABC News.
“We feel the pain any time another parent feels what we felt,” he added.
Stephen Gruver, Max's father, said that the fellowship his family found with the Piazza’s “really helped us through a lot of the pain" and helped them "to understand some of it."
"Someone has actually gone through, and shared a similar experience,” Stephen Gruver added.
In addition to helping each other heal, the two families are also fighting for change, and warning other parents that what happened to their sons could happen to anyone's child.
“These were two great kids," Jim Piazza said. "Kids who just wanted to be with friends and make people happy, and it could be anyone's child."
Creating change is going to be a 'grassroots effort'
This weekend, the Piazzas and Gruvers are also banding together with other parents from across the country who have been impacted by hazing for a conference in Greenville, South Carolina.
“We're getting together with a group of other families that have lost children," Jim Piazza said of the event. "Our objective that we all share is to talk about stiffer legislation around the country."
He added that they hope to tackle: "How do we deal with national fraternities? How do we deal with universities throughout the country? And how to we provide a support group for others who are dealing with this?”
Tom Kline, the Piazza’s family attorney, told ABC News that implementing changes on college campuses is an “extraordinary” challenge.
“The only way we are going to see change is if we have parents like the Gruvers and like the Piazzas come together, people who have lost kids that they loved so much, and make the change themselves,” Kline said.
"This is going to be a grassroots effort," Kline added. "That's the only way we are going to see change."
The Gruvers, who are also fighting for legislation reform around hazing incidents, said that while most states currently treat hazing as a misdemeanor, they are hoping to see it punishable with a felony charge.
“It's not a deterrent, the way the law is written right now,” Stephen Gruver said. “Currently, the law in Louisiana is up to 30 days in jail and up to $100 fine."
“They've got laws on the books for if you have too many chickens on your property on residential area, $500 and 6 months in jail,” he added.
Their advice for parents of college-age children
The two families also shared messages that they want other parents who are sending their children to college to know, especially if the're planning on becoming involved in Greek life on campus.
“Have your kids stick together,” Evelyn Piazza said. “Make sure they have someone who has their back.”
Jim Piazza said it is also important to, “Have them report it if they are asked to do something that does not feel right.”
Rae Ann Gruver echoed Jim Piazza’s sentiments, saying, “if it doesn’t feel right, then it is not right.”
“Strength in numbers with them is what is going to help them. They need to take care of each other," she said. "If they know something is going bad or they feels bad, they need to end it right there."