WRAL Investigates

More than a year later, questions remain about UNC student's death

Posted January 21, 2014

— When David Shannon died, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill freshman’s death was seen as a tragic accident involving alcohol and bad judgment. But the WRAL Investigates team has learned that police won’t close the case until they can prove whether the 18-year-old was alone when he fell to his death.

Police and autopsy records show Shannon, who was pledging the Chi Phi fraternity, fell after climbing 41 feet and shimmying across a narrow water line at a concrete plant in Carrboro in late October 2012. His blood alcohol level was 0.22, three times the level at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law.

Carrboro police initially said there was no evidence to suggest that fraternity hazing led to Shannon's death, but his friends and those with him that night have not spoken with police.

Hazing hasn't been ruled out, however. Chi Phi was fresh off a self-imposed probation shortly before Shannon died, and the fraternity is currently suspended for hazing activities, though UNC says that is unrelated to Shannon's death.

Police say they believe the people who found Shannon’s body had used a phone app called FriendFinder that tracked his phone location.

“We found out friend. He’s not breathing,” a friend told a 911 dispatcher as they tried CPR. “I promise you, no one has talked to him in a full day, and we just found him right now."

Police say there was a 24-hour gap in Shannon's whereabouts before the 911 call was made.

“Was David acting by himself or was he part of a bigger process, doing this against his will? These are all questions we can’t get answers to at this point,” said Capt. Chris Atack with the Carrboro Police Department. “When you think about it, why would somebody come out here by themselves and do something like this? It’s not logical.”

Landon Dowdy, a student-reporter for the campus TV show, Carolina Week, says Chi Phi fraternity members have been equally closed off to her.

“It was a social night. It was a Friday night. There was drinking at the party, and the party was broken up,” Dowdy said. “Somewhere in there, David disappeared.”

The night started at a sorority house on Rosemary Street. Shannon was supposed to attend a party at a restaurant up the street, but he never made it. Police say the last anyone admitted to seeing him was about 9 p.m. Friday. The autopsy report showed he sent his final text message at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, but police won’t reveal anything about the phone records.

The Chi Phi fraternity's national chapter isn't commenting on Shannon's death. However, the organization that owns the Chi Phi house in Chapel Hill did release a statement.

“The Southern Order Memorial Foundation is seeking to work with Chi Phi national and the University to ensure there is a fair and transparent process regarding current allegations. The tragic death of David Shannon, over a year ago, is a matter for the Carrboro police to investigate and fairly assess. It is not the role of the SOMF to speculate publicly on open investigations,” a foundation spokesman said in a statement.

Shannon’s parents declined to answer WRAL Investigates' questions about the investigation, but his father said, "All we've ever wanted is to know what happened that night." His parents have reached out to the university and have spoken with students about the dangers of drinking.

The WRAL Investigates team submitted requests two months ago for copies of the hazing complaints against Chi Phi, but UNC has not released the documents or explained why it is taking so long.

Carrboro police are hoping someone will step forward and explain the missing pieces.

“We are hoping that someone’s conscience is bothering them,” Atack said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • michaelened Jan 22, 2014

    David Shannon's death is tragic, unfair, and incomprehensible to everyone involved. The young men who searched for David, found him, called 911, performed chest compressions until help arrived are NOT guilty of anything and should not be treated that way by the press, the police or the public. They did all the right things for their brother. Let there be a peaceful close to this horrific event when the time comes and let the finger pointing and the outsider suspicions cease. The Shannon family needs the pieces to fit together so they can feel David's spirit in a warm and loving way. Let's help them find that.

  • mdi478 Jan 22, 2014

    The problem with today's society is instead of accepting that a tragic event can happen to a beautiful person, that we must always place blame on something as an excuse to combat the pain of loss. Tragedies happen- some without reason or logic as to why it occurred. I have been around these boys that are so harshly criticized by the public. The impact of David's death has sent people into depression, in and out of therapy, and sadness and confusion that papers fail to report. David was more than a friend, he was a brother. No one understands the situation so it is not up to bias reports like this to condemn such a magnificent group of Chi Phis. As for the man that made the 911 call- perhaps we should be more sympathetic to him finding his friend deceased, one of the most traumatic experiences one could go through, and support him and his recovery instead of placing blame. Shame on WRAL.

  • Commentor113 Jan 22, 2014

    I noticed the same thing several others have mentioned...I assume they're keeping an eye on the kid who made this 911 call.

  • Mr. Hans Jan 22, 2014

    View quoted thread


  • Mr. Hans Jan 22, 2014

    Funny how the cops want to keep this case open (not that they shouldn't), but when they gun down an unarmed kid holding a Blackberry it's case closed immediately.

  • sinenomine Jan 22, 2014

    Admyank, I think the point of the .22 BAC reading was to show just how drunk this person was. However many beers you think it takes to be DWI it is clear that Shannon had imbibed the equivalent of way more than one beer.

  • admyank Jan 22, 2014

    First, WRAL: "His blood alcohol level was 0.22, three times the level at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law"

    He wasn't driving - so knock it off. Just because the state set it so one beer makes you inebriated does not make it so.

    Second: " “I promise you, no one has talked to him in a full day, and we just found him right now."

    Police say there was a 24-hour gap in Shannon's whereabouts before the 911 call was made."

    Is to coincidental.

  • sinenomine Jan 22, 2014

    The idea that Shannon was alone beggars logic. I would bet dollars to donuts this was hazing, or a dare, or some other sort of drunken frolic.

    What is clear is that the police investigation is stymied and until or unless a participant or witness breaks silence is going nowhere.

    The other thing which is clear is that Shannon's inebriated state contributed to and likely ultimately caused his death. Assuming his intoxication was voluntary and he was not forced to ingest alcohol it is possible that if anyone else were present they might not be guilty of a crime at all but only of execrable judgment.

    It is regrettable that so promising a life should be lost in a way like this but it is not the first and won't be the last time such a tragedy occurs.

  • mtnsgood Jan 21, 2014

    The comment that the friend made while talking to the dispatcher while administering CPR raise red flags to me. "I promise you, no one has talked to him in a full day, and we just found him right now" Even answering the dispatcher's questions- "I promise" is a bit strange like maybe it was contrived? Don't know of course but seems odd.

  • ccsmith1902 Jan 21, 2014

    It is hard to believe that he went alone to shimmy across a narrow water line. I think it was hazing or some kind of dare. At any rate, I don't think he was alone.