Film director calls for Clemson president to answer questions about Tucker Hipps’ death

A petition has started pushing for Clemson University's help in solving the death of Tucker Hipps as a new documentary film about the case is in the works
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:20 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:29 PM EDT
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CLEMSON, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The Los Angeles director and producer behind a project featuring the story of 19-year-old Tucker Hipps has started a petition to get the attention of Clemson University.

For years Daniel Catullo has been working on a docuseries called “Protect the House” that follows families like Tucker’s, who are fighting for answers in the deaths of their college-age sons. The subject is one close to Catullo’s heart, having previously directed a documentary about the hazing death of West Virginia University student Nolan Burch.

Hipps, Burch and Gary DeVercelly Jr., who died in a hazing incident at Rider University, are the main figures in the series. Cindy Hipps said details about its release are expected to come out in the next few months.

“We’ve been working on it for three years now,” she said. “It’s almost to fruition and so where it goes from this point I’m not sure, but it should be a powerful piece.”

The Hipps family is working with a documentary filmmaker to tell Tucker's story and talk about the dangers of college hazing.

But according to Catullo, an important piece is missing.

On Monday Catullo started a petition demanding transparency after he says Clemson University President Jim Clements declined to be interviewed for the documentary. He said for years his requests to Clemson have gone unanswered - until a call a couple of weeks ago from a university spokesperson saying they would not be involved in the project.

“I find it shocking,” he said. “I mean, this isn’t about our film. This is about a family, who are the biggest Clemson fans in the world. They lost their son, and they live with this tragedy every day and people in that community know what happened and no one’s coming forward.”

He said Clemson is the only university they approached while making the documentary that will not cooperate with the production.

“Clemson can do better than this,” Catullo said. “This is not a small university. This is not some fly-by-night university. Clemson is a prestigious university... They owe it to the family and they owe it to their alumni and their community to figure out what happened to Tucker.”

He believes Clements agreeing to an interview and joining the many voices calling for someone to come forward about Hipps’ death could make a difference.

“It’s harming the university. It’s harming the community,” said Catullo. “And more importantly, we have a family who’s grieving that needs answers.”

No one has been charged in the 2014 death of Tucker Hipps, 19, whose body was found in Lake...
No one has been charged in the 2014 death of Tucker Hipps, 19, whose body was found in Lake Hartwell.(Provided by family)

Hipps was last seen on a fraternity pledge run with members of Sigma Phi Epsilon in the early morning hours of Sept. 22, 2014. His body was later found in Lake Hartwell under the Highway 93 bridge.

According to court documents from the family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Clemson University, a witness said Tucker fell when he was forced to walk the bridge railing as punishment for failing to bring breakfast biscuits for other students on the run.

No charges have ever been filed in Tucker’s death. The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office said deputies are still actively investigating the case. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said Clemson University has cooperated with their investigation.

“I thought, there’s no way 29 boys could keep a secret, but yes they can,” Cindy Hipps said. “But I think somebody has to be tormented by it.”

Catullo said law enforcement he interviewed about Hipps’ death told him the “code of silence and secrecy” surrounding the case is stronger than they’ve seen in some organized crime investigations.

“Gary and Cindy are being eaten alive by the trauma and the sadness that they endured on a daily basis not knowing what happened to their son,” he said. “It’s time that we put an end to this.”

FOX Carolina reached out to Clemson University for comment on the petition. We have not yet received a response.

Anyone who knows details about what happened to Tucker Hipps should call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. A $100,000 reward is still being offered for information in the investigation. Tips can be reported anonymously.