An Open Letter to The Sewanee Purple 

Chris and Melody Piazza

In the fall of 2017, our son, Sam Piazza, walked into our bedroom to tell my husband and I that he had decided that he was “definitely going to Sewanee.” In the fall of 2018, Sam started his freshman year at the University of the South. In the spring of 2019, he pledged Sigma Nu fraternity and, all of a sudden had an entire group of new friends he called “brothers.” Sam came to love this beautiful University on a mountain in Tennessee. He loved the friends he made there. He loved the quirkiness of the school and the intelligence of its students. He loved to brag about his professors. He also liked to complain about them.

We last saw our beautiful son at family weekend in the fall of 2022. He seemed so well adjusted and happy. He was engaged in his classes and talked about working hard to correct some previous mistakes he had made in prior semesters by not working up to his potential. He and his dad played golf that Saturday on a glorious fall morning. He spent the afternoon attending the tailgates. It was a beautiful day on the mountain. That night we had a party with some other families at a house we had rented for the weekend and hosted many of Sam’s friends and their parents. It was a fun evening of watching college football, meeting new Sewanee families and spending time with Sam and his precious girlfriend. The last time we saw our beautiful, clever son alive was that night as he and his girlfriend walked out the front door happy and laughing as they left to catch a ride with a very nice family who was taking several kids back to campus. 

Two weeks later, we received a call in the early morning hours of October 1, 2022, telling us that Sam had been airlifted from Sewanee to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. When we arrived in the Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt, we found Sam with a tube down his throat that was keeping him alive. We learned that he had ingested cocaine while with friends at Sewanee the night before and at some point that evening began having what was described as “seizures.” Of course, the kids that were with him did not understand what they were seeing was a drug interaction. What his friends who surrounded him and loved him did not understand is that those seizures represented his heart seizing. They were unaware that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was needed to keep Sam’s heart beating, so it could continue to supply oxygen to his organs, most importantly, his brain. His friends carried him out of the Sigma Nu house and drove him minutes away to the Sewanee hospital where the staff there worked hard to try and save his life by restarting his heart. He was airlifted from there to Vanderbilt where Vanderbilt’s medical team continued to try and save Sam. Unfortunately, the amount of time that passed while his brain did not receive oxygen had been too long. On October 5, 2022, Sam was taken off the ventilator at Vanderbilt Hospital and we said goodbye to our beautiful, precious son. 

To be very clear, Sam did not overdose on cocaine. The amount of cocaine in Sam’s system as documented in the toxicology report was nowhere close to an overdose amount. The cocaine he ingested did not contain fentanyl. His heart simply did not accept this foreign substance and it went into an arrhythmia that caused a heart attack. Sam was not a drug user. He was a kid who thought it might be okay to try something new and it killed him. 

We write this letter following the anniversary of Sam’s passing, to warn all of you bright and gifted students that the ingestion of a recreational drug is never recreational. It is taking a chance on harming yourself or changing your life and the lives of those around you forever. As Sam’s parents we champion Sewanee’s efforts to promote the Good Samaritan Campaign and challenge each of you to make every effort to learn how to perform CPR in case one of your fellow students needs you to be their Sewanee angel. We don’t know that CPR would have saved Sam that night. But, we do know that he had no chance whatsoever without it. Sam was just as bright and gifted as all of you. But, on a fall weekend a year ago he made a terrible decision that he could not have known would end his life and change the lives of all those who loved him in indescribable ways. We write this letter so you will know what he did not know that night. 


Chris and Melody Piazza


  1. Chris and Melody, this is a most courageous thing you have done. God bless you and thank you, you may well have saved a life this very day. May you find peace in happy memories of your precious son. Leslie Heizman

  2. I’m so sorry to learn of this. I pray that the courage and strength it took to share your tragedy is rewarded by saving another’s life.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for having the courage to write and share this letter.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story to caution others. My heart breaks for you. I wish there was something I could say or do. 🥰

  5. What a terrible tragedy. We congratulate Melody and Chris on their brave decision to write this letter and our hearts break for them. There are no words…. Sally and Willie Allen

  6. Thank you both for sharing Sam’s story. I’m sure your openness and courage in sharing this tragedy will help others. And I will make sure my freshman son at Sewanee will learn CPR!

  7. Thank you for your love and care for all children sharing your story and learnings. Prayers for God’s deep peace and comfort for you and your family.

  8. This is such a special thing to do for all students and may all high school and college students read and be aware of the dangers. May this lead to students and adults learning CPR. Love and Prayers
    Deanna Foster

  9. Thank you for sharing this. My heart aches so badly for you. My wife and I have shared this with our three boys (21, 19, and 16).

    1. I imagine this is exactly what the Piazza family is hoping we will do. My husband shared this story with our two daughters who sent their own daughters to Vanderbilt and University of Arkansas this year. I pray they will learn from this precious young man’s tragic mistake.

  10. Words cannot express how sorry I am for your deep loss. Thank you for sharing this story and by doing so you likely will have an impact for a very long time. May you both find comfort and peace in the midst of the worst suffering known to man…

  11. I am so sorry for your loss and my prayers go out to you. The time you took to warn others was admirable and I for one thank you for taking the time to share your story.

  12. I am so saddened to read of Sams passing. Thank you for sharing his story to help others. I always found him so pleasant, respectful, and bright. Prayers of peace and comfort to your family

  13. Sam was such an incredible person. Thanks for raising such a great guy!
    We are so sorry for your loss! Sharing your story was so courageous and important for others!

  14. I cannot begin to imagine the soul-crushing grief that you’ve endured over the past year. I also cannot imagine mustering the courage to set your grief aside long enough to write this. I truly hope your family finds solace.

  15. Your words speak for all who have lost a successful child to a bad decision. My son was two weeks from attending Governor’s School when he made the wrong choice. Thank you for your grace and for speaking for me.

  16. Melody and Chris.
    Susan Kendall just forwarded.
    Sarah , my wife and I tell you how sorry we are for your loss.
    Drugs affect every American family one way or another.
    It’s a very sad situation.
    May God bless you .
    Don Kendall

  17. Thank you for sharing. Your loss is beyond words. CPR classes take about 2 hours. Reach out to American Heart association for classes near you. It’s something that can change a life that anyone can learn.

  18. So sorry for your loss. I like the positive approach you used for such a tragedy. Prayers for healing

  19. Dear Melody and Chris, a year later and all of our hearts are still broken…yet unbelievably, you have found the strength to look of outside your own pain and to to think how Sam’s tragic death might, somehow, serve others. This beautiful, heartwrenching article might open some eyes and change behaviors. Hope so. Sending you so much love.

  20. Took some guts to write this. Hopefully it will save a kids life. God bless you . I imagine the pain never goes away. ThNk you.

  21. So very sorry for the loss of your son & in such a tragic unfortunate way. These stupid drugs affect folks different & it’s always a crap shoot knowing how it will affect you. There’s too much unknown in a lot of the drugs out there, it’s just scary. I wish anyone that has any thought of experimenting actually think again & again before they decide to go for it. And not go for it. Rest in peace & love Sam. And mom & dad, hang in there. I know it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever go through. The loss of your child. It’s not suppose to happen that way. Be close with the Lord. That’s where your Sam is. And he will forever be in your heart. I pray God wraps his loving arms around you & give you some comfort. 🙏🏼🙏🏼

  22. Thank you for this very moving and powerful message! I read it to my teen daughter who took it to heart. I will share it with my college-age son & our FB network. I first saw your letter on the FB page of a friend who is a youth minister and fire chief in Alaska.
    Our family lives in Kona, Hawaii, working with Youth With Mission. Your
    words will travel far and wide!
    May God comfort your family and rescue lives through your message.

  23. Such a beautiful kid with a brilliant future! Skipper and I are so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine losing a child and your letter was so moving and hopefully will change an unsuspecting young person to just say no!

  24. Thank you for sharing your story. Despite all the lessons and wisdom we’ve shared with our children, sometimes the wrong decisions are made. I am so sorry for your loss. Your decision to share your story will save others. God bless and peace be with you!

  25. What an incredibly brave and vulnerable share in an effort to help others. Thank you. I am so very sorry for your tragic loss in Sam.

  26. Thank you for sharing this tragic but important message. I pray it finds a way to the people who need to read it and truly saves lives.

  27. I love you both to no end. My heart has not stopped breaking from what happened to Sam. All I can say is I LOVE YOU.

  28. Thanks so much for sharing. I have saved this to share with grandchildren as they approach college age.

  29. Thank you for your bravery in sharing your pain and loss with the world. It will help someone think twice. Disrupting your trauma by sharing your beautiful son’s story is vital and real. Praying for your family.

  30. Dear Melody and Chris,
    The grace and courage you’ve always had shines ever bright. Thank you for this letter. I am calling the AHA this morning to arrange a CPR class and I will take some friends with me. My favorite comment was, “Stay close to the Lord, for that is where Sam is.” Love you.

  31. Melody, Jim n I lost our 40 yr old son, Matthew, a month before your Sam! It was a severe Asthma episode that sent him to live with our Lord! No matter how old or the circumstances, it changes your life, as you knew it, and it changes the person you were! I fight every day to be ok with this, because i know Matthew is in heaven! But it is a r daily struggle! Part of me is gone now n it’s about learning to live without him and living with this empty place inside! I’ll be praying for you n Sam! I am amazed you have written this, I still try to hold it all in to avoid making someone’s day sad!!! Take care of you!

  32. as I sit here in the parking lot reading your heartfelt letter about your beautiful brings tears to my eyes. Having a 19-year-old daughter, who went through an opioid journey after a scoliosis surgery… no fault on her own. However, that’s how quickly it can happen and our poor children. I do not think they understand the ramifications of just trying stuff that hits the dopamine. It’s all about awareness and I thank you so much for putting this letter out. Many Thanks and forever prayers to you and your family! 🙏🏻❤️

  33. Melody and Chris,
    I think of you two often. A beautiful tribute to Sam. This will be shared far and wide and hopefully save many lives. May God continue to comfort you. You are strong and loved!

  34. Thank you for sharing this tragic story. I will make sure my kids read it. And I will send to my friends so that they can share with their kids. Some good will come of this, I am certain. Sam was a bright light to those around him. ❤️

  35. When my daughter was a freshman in college in 2006 a friend of hers died the exact same way. A small amount of cocaine killed her. Seventeen years later, she’s still heartbroken. The student’s parents are still reeling. I send you compassion and love from Massachusetts.

  36. Heart breaking. So sorry for your loss. Brave of you both to share this story…. It will save someone’s life. Best. Bud and Mary Storey.

  37. Thank you so much for sharing this. My daughter was a classmate of Sam’s and knew him socially through Greek activities. She was devastated, as were many other students at Sewanee. As a parent, my biggest worry for my three college-aged kids is exposure to fentanyl in some accidental way- I’m glad to hear this was not at all related to this already tragic situation. At the university where I work (App State in Boone), I’ve started an organization to train as many students/faculty/staff in hands-only compressions to boost confidence and knowledge to react when someone is in trouble. My heart goes out to you and your family. If just one life is saved through CPR in Sam’s name you’ve made a huge impact.

  38. What a wonderful tribute to Sam in such a way to hopefully have others to see the dangers of drug experimentation. May God give you peace and love.

  39. So sorry and sad that your son is no longer with you except in your hearts until you meet again someday in Heaven! Thank you for your story that will save someone else from such a tragic fate! May our loving God give you peace and comfort as you grieve for what might have been in your loss of a brilliant life gone way to soon! God bless and keep you unti you meet again!

  40. We lost our 19 year old son in 2017 to a cocaine overdose from a night of partying. His “friends” posted on SnapChat videos of him foaming at the mouth and did nothing but take him home and put him to bed. The cops were even at the house that night due to a noise complaint. He was found the next morning in his bed, he had been gone for hours. Its a pain like no other, anger that never gets closure…he is missed so much. My thoughts and prayers are with you as well.

    1. I’m so sorry you went through that. ❤️ How any “friends” could do that is unthinkable and I wonder how they can live with themselves. Your son deserved better. May he rest in peace ❤️❤️❤️

  41. Thank you for sharing this. I will have my son read this. My condolences and prayers to your family.

  42. Dear Chris and Melody:
    Thank you for your selfless act of sharing the story of the tragic passing of your precious son, Sam. I certainly hope and pray that our bright and gifted Sewanee students will heed this advice and understand that recreational drug use most certainly can be catastrophic. The beginning and middle of your letter sound very similar to the “normal” experiences that most of us have had as parents of a college student. I am just so regretful that your letter ends with the sobering truth that Sam lost his young, beautiful and budding life.

    Your sharing of Sam’s story is such a kindhearted gift for each and every Sewanee student and family, particularly in light of the unthinkable tragedy your family has endured. On behalf of Sam and your family, I implore Sewanee students, families, alumni, faculty, and staff to make every effort to learn how to perform CPR as this small investment of learning this procedure may very well save a life. It’s a simple, yet fitting way to honor the Piazza Family and pay tribute to Sam.

    Once again, thank you for your selfless act of sharing this story so that others will know what Sam and his friends did not know that night. May God bless your family.

    Karen Quarterman
    Parent of Sewanee Alumna

  43. Thank you for this gift to my grandchildren. I am sorry that it has come with such sorrow for both of you.

  44. Melody and Chris, I cannot fathom the pain you have felt and will continue to feel from your loss. Your courage to share your devastating experience is admirable and hopefully prevent others from your experience. I should have written to you earlier about Sam, but there are no words that can bring comfort. May his memory be a blessing.
    Bob Ross

  45. Sewanee tragedies touch us all. I lost two Sewanee friends to alcohol. There is no consolation. But your courageous message may save someone’s son or daughter. I will pass this on. May God’s peace be with you.

  46. Your devastating post will be a Godsend to others. You never think that it will happen to one of your family members. I also want the readers to take note of the rising importance of mental health. My only son, took his life at age 24. There were signs that should have prompted us to seek the advice of a multitude of professionals. We cannot continue to lose these young men!! I send my support and prayers for your precious son, Sam.

  47. This is so sad but unfortunately not surprising. I started college at Sewanee in the 80s and this could have been me on many occasions. Now, as a parent, the idea of losing a child so young makes me feel the hole left by their passing. I don’t think that hole can be filled. Partying seems cool and fun at the time, but just so not worth it in retrospect

  48. I read your letter this morning and have been able to think of little else all day. Thank you for sharing such a viscerally painful experience. I have shared it with my three sons and countless friends. Sam undoubtedly has many legacies, but one will surely be helping someone else avoid tragedy. You are being held in the hearts of strangers near and far.

  49. Dear Melody & Chris – The courage and love it took to pen such a compassionate letter might just prevent another tragic loss. Sam was a wonderful young man and God must have a plan for him that none of us could understand. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you both.
    Sandra & Jon

  50. Very heart felt and well done letter. I am so sorry for you loss.

    Ken Wilder
    NLRPD Retired

  51. I’m SO SORRY for the loss of your beautiful and precious son!! Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story. I know this was hard to do.

  52. I think of you often and my heart breaks for you. He was such a great kid…and sadly, great kids can make one bad decision that changes everything forever and they don’t even realize it at this age age…or even consider it. What a wonderful thing they’re doing to hopefully prevent future devastating events from occurring. You are a hero for writing this because I know it was excruciating for you. If it saves one life, it was worth it. ❤️

  53. All the love you have for your son is evident. We who hear this story know the healing of angels is heading your way. Thank you for your courage.

  54. Thank you for the courage to turn your loss into hope for others. There is not another parent anywhere who doesn’t grieve deeply with you. ✝️

  55. I am sad and at loss for words but agree with the thoughtful comments of your other friends and others. Through your letter, many others can prevent such a needless tragedy. My heart is with you.

  56. I am so sorry for the loss of your precious son, so full of potential wasted with just one poor decision. My daughter Graduated from Sewanee and during her time there I worried incessantly about the partying culture and the remoteness of the school. Sewanee might take heed and due to their location require CPR/Basic first aid as part of the Freshman experience. Just a tangible way to honor this young man’s death.

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