Father reflects on faith journey after hazing death of Sam Martinez
Hector Martinez’s faith makes him believe his son’s hazing death was not God’s will, but a tragic mistake that can be prevented from happening to other young people.
Hector’s 19-year-old son, Sam, died of acute alcohol intoxication on Nov. 12, 2019 following a night of heavy drinking at Washington State University, according to a Daily Evergreen article. The incident was part of Alpha Tau Omega’s “big-little night,” a hazing ritual where older fraternity members supplied alcohol to new pledges.
Ever since, Hector said he has had to relearn how to live without Sam and maintain his faith.
“My faith has been my biggest friend — my biggest ally — to help me navigate through the whole ordeal,” Hector said.
Relearning life without Sam
After Sam’s death, Hector said he struggled to understand how something so unexpected could happen to his son, who was one of the biggest blessings in Hector’s life. Instead of sitting down and reading his Bible, he found himself walking, listening to Christian songs and talking to God.
“I used to walk and ask God, ‘Why? Why did he only have one chance?’” Hector said.
Some people in Hector’s life told him Sam’s death “was God’s will,” but he disagrees.
“Don’t tell me that — I don’t think it was God’s will to take my son,” Hector said. “He (Sam) made a bad choice. He didn’t have a chance, I guess.”
The COVID-19 pandemic started shortly after Sam died. Hector said it was a double-edged sword; sometimes he wanted a break from people, but other times, he wanted to be surrounded by his loved ones.
However, the pandemic brought Hector and his wife, Jolayne Houtz, closer together because they spent all of their time at home.
Growing up in church
Hector said he never forced his two children to believe the way he did when they were growing up, but they went to church together as a family. For a time they attended a United Church of Christ congregation in Seattle, and now attend a Presbyterian church.
“When Sam was one, he was little Jesus [in the] church nativity scene,” Hector said.
Every year, they went to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a mission trip. Hector said they often took Sam’s friends with them.
Hector earned a degree in mechanical engineering in Mexico, he said. He later went to Barclay College in Kansas for a missions degree.
Even at a predominantly Christian college, Hector said he witnessed similar hazing rituals to his son. Older students would make the freshmen go outside naked and stand in the snow or tell boys to hide in the girls’ closets overnight.
“Things like that didn’t happen that often, but it was just to satisfy or start belonging to that group,” Hector said. “And I mean, most of them were Christians, right? It was hazing on a little level.”
However, none of the hazing there involved heavy drinking.
Hector said many of the friends he made at Barclay sent him supportive messages and prayers after Sam died.
Sam did not have much interest in college, Hector said. He wanted to stay close to home and have a close-knit group of friends like he did in high school.
Hector said he did not know much about Greek life because it was not offered in Mexico or at Barclay.
“[Some friends] told me about fraternities, they said, ‘you’ll have friends forever,’” Hector said. “I never heard any bad things. I was very excited that [Sam] was part of Greek life. I didn’t know anything about it.”
Hector said he thought Greek life would provide structure for Sam with study time. He also liked the community service projects, which were similar to the ones their family participated in through their church.
“If I knew just a little bit of what I know now, I would have talked to him more about it,” he said.
Despite the good aspects of Greek life, Hector said students can fall into bad habits such as hazing and drinking. They learn to haze others because they were also hazed.
“It’s a big word, but it’s sinful,” Hector said.
Pushing for change
Hector and Jolayne are pushing for two anti-hazing laws to protect young people like Sam. They also filed a lawsuit against WSU, which will go to trial in March.
Sam’s parents will testify to the state legislature on Thursday about House Bill 1758, otherwise known as Sam’s Law, and House Bill 1751. If enacted, these would increase the penalty for hazing by making it a gross misdemeanor and require organizations to publicly report hazing violations on their websites.
Hector said his friends and family have been praying for Sam’s Law.
“God is bigger than law,” Hector said. “He will be able to put this on the hearts of people … I have faith that something will come of it.”
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a larger series on Greek life and faith, which was inspired by Sam Martinez and his family’s faith background.
Emma Ledbetter is a freelance writer from Newcastle, Washington. She is a rising senior at Washington State University, where she is a microbiology major. She has written for The Daily Evergreen, WSU’s student newspaper, for the last three years and is currently serving as editor-in-chief. Emma is content as long as she is writing, and she hopes to be a science writer after she graduates. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking and playing with dogs.