For Ruth Harten, her son's drowning in the Colorado River in Texas more than a year ago isn't proverbial water under a bridge. It's a senseless example of the tragic consequences of college hazing.
On April 29, 1995, Gabe Higgins, 19, was the third University of Texas student in nine years to die under suspicions of hazing, or fraternity initiation rituals often involving meaningless, difficult or humiliating tasks.A former Pocatellan, Higgins was a mechanical engineering sophomore and a pledge with the Texas Cowboys, a university spirit group best known in the state for firing a cannon during athletic events.
Last February, a grand jury decided not to indict anyone for criminal acts in regards to his death. But Harten won't let that deter her from determining the circumstances behind it.
Harten has filed civil lawsuits against 18 Texas Cowboys, charging that hazing activities led to her son's death. The University of Texas has put the Texas Cowboys organization under five years probation following the incident.
Some of the 45 people who were at the drinking party on the river's banks when Higgins drowned said the grand jury ruling confirmed that his death was an accident with no one to blame.
Harten feels there are several questions begging to be answered:
-Why did participants wait nine hours after her son was discovered missing at 2:30 a.m. to contact the sheriff's department?
-Why were campsites cleaned up before the sheriff's department was contacted?
-How did a parent from Houston arrive at the scene before law enforcement authorities when Houston is a three-hour drive away?
Those discrepancies compel her to persist in pursuing the issue in periodic trips to Texas.
"I intend to go now every other month for a couple of weeks just to keep closer tabs on it," she says. "One of the questions I'm always asked is, `What do I expect out of all this?' The biggest thing I want is the truth, to know how Gabe died."
From all accounts, Higgins participated in rituals that included eating hot dogs laced with tobacco, drinking beer and warm wine, calisthenics games and swimming in the river while wearing his boots.
When his body was pulled from the river fully clothed, his blood alcohol level was 0.21 percent, more than double the intoxication limit for motorists.
Harten plans to get on with her life. She's 12 credits shy of her music degree, which she plans to obtain at Idaho State University.
But only Higgins' pledge mate and another person involved have called her to express their condolences. "None of the rest of them contacted me," she says.