Ole Miss student charged in fraternity hazing after pledge ‘blindfolded and poisoned’

Published 4:44 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A University of Mississippi student faces aggravated assault charges after police said he sprayed cleaner into the mouth of a fraternity pledge during a hazing ritual, causing serious internal injuries.

Adam Peavy, a lawyer for the injured student, said the hazing took place at an Oct. 11 ceremony where pledges were supposed to receive fraternity pins at the Pi Kappa Alpha house in Oxford.

“He was blindfolded and poisoned,” Peavy said. “That’s what happened.”

University police charged James Bowes Higgins with aggravated assault on Nov. 17.

A student who witnessed the incident told a university police officer that pledges were blindfolded with their neckties and made to sit in a hallway. Active members then “yelled, screamed, threw liquids and things” on the pledges, and made them squat against the wall while reciting phrases, a police report states.

The police report says Higgins, a fraternity member, “grabbed a bottle of bleach or surface cleaner and started spraying it on a few pledges. During this time, one of the pledges threw up from inhaling some of the substances in his mouth, and another one had to go to the hospital because the bleach got into his eyes.”

Peavy said someone asked his client if he wanted water but instead sprayed cleaner into his mouth, with the student swallowing “two or three gulps.” The student immediately began vomiting and went to the hospital the next day when vomiting continued.

“He hoped, he wished, he was going to get better, but it’s gotten progressively worse,” Peavy said.

The lawyer said the student has suffered serious damage to his esophagus, can eat only sometimes, and then only things such as macaroni and cheese or protein shakes. The once-burly young man has lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms).

“He hasn’t had a normal meal since it happened,” Peavy said, saying doctors now advise that they may have to remove a section of esophagus and relocate the student’s stomach. The student is now at higher risk for cancer and other medical problems, Peavy said.