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Amherst mom's poignant words about hazing death make 'Dateline' mandatory viewing

The "Dateline" story on NBC Sunday didn't just include the parents of Nolan M. Burch, the Amherst resident and Canisius High School graduate who died in 2014 in a hazing-related tragedy at a West Virginia University fraternity.

Kim and Theron "TJ" Burch were the centerpiece of a cautionary tale that featured 16 parents interviewed by NBC News correspondent Andrea Canning in a program documenting "The College Fraternity Crisis."

And Kim Burch was an incredible sound-bite machine whose poignant comments might have brought tears to the eyes of some viewers.

It did mine.

Nolan's parents were the bookends of the program highlighting PUSH, the acronym that stands for Parents United 2 Stop Hazing.

They were interviewed for two segments at the start of the program discussing the pain they continue to deal with after their son died in a Morgantown, W.Va., hospital following a pledging ritual at the fraternity that included excessive alcohol consumption.

Nolan's parents described their son as "funny, a bright spirit" and "infectious."

"You don't send your kid off to college and bring him home in a body bag three months later," said Kim. "That's not the way it is supposed to work."

Her fears about Nolan's introduction to college were much simpler. "I was so worried about him getting athlete's foot from the showers," she said lightly. "That was my biggest concern."

Nolan's parents also were a significant part of the poignant, lump-in-your-throat ending.

They noted that Nolan's organs were donated, and recipients included a West Virginia student, which led Kim to say "I always say it is like he finished school."

Another organ went to a pilot. And Nolan's lungs went to a fellow Boston Red Sox fan.

"It is awesome," said Kim as she met the man. "I feel Nolan is with us."

Kim ended the hour by delivering some powerful comments in front of the other parents who have had similar experiences in needlessly losing a son who wanted to join a so-called brotherhood by being in a fraternity.

"They're together," she said of all the sons who died. "We're together. We're working down here. And they are working up there. That's a true brotherhood up there."

In the first two segments devoted to Nolan's story, "Dateline" aired the chilling, horrific video from inside the fraternity house of the events leading up to Burch's death. It led Kim Burch to conclude her son might be alive if fraternity members had acted quickly after her son drank five and a half times the legal limit of alcohol.

It is a recurring theme: Fraternity members delay far too long asking for medical assistance when pledges are in jeopardy.

At times, it was painful to watch as parents of students from other universities, including Penn State, LSU, Texas Tech, Florida A&M and Rider University, discussed their pain and lamented not have been given enough information about the hazards of fraternity life.

The hour program hosted by Lester Holt wasn't a hatchet job on fraternities. Canning balanced the piece with information on some of the good things that fraternities do.

She also interviewed the president of West Virginia University, an attorney who argued that colleges have to do more to protect their students, and a former college president who advocated abolishing the Greek system.

It may have surprised viewers that when Canning asked the 16 parents near the end if they thought fraternities should be abolished, only a few raised their hands. Burch's parents did not raise their hands.

As painful as it was to see so many parents struggling with their losses, Western New York watched in high numbers, especially for June.

The hour program had a 7.2 rating on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), the local NBC affiliate, and beat "60 Minutes" in the 7 p.m. time period. To put viewership in even more perspective, the rating was higher than the 6.6 rating Saturday night rating for Washington's victory over Las Vegas in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on cable's NBCSN.

"Dateline" was the second-highest rated program locally Sunday night, behind only the 9.3 rating on WKBW-TV (Channel 7) for Golden State's victory over Cleveland in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which started an hour later.

The "Dateline" program already is On Demand via Spectrum. It should be mandatory viewing for any parent who has a son heading to a college in the fall and may be interested in pledging a fraternity.

Ideally, sons would watch the program with their parents.

The words of Kim Burch should stay with them forever.

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