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Parents of former WVU student air documentary in hopes of preventing tragedies

Today marks five years since the death of Nolan Burch during a fraternity initiation.

The then-WVU freshman lay unresponsive at the Kappa Sigma house while passersby did nothing to help him.

Tuesday, those who attended the screening of “Breathe, Nolan, Breathe” at the Montainlair saw the shocking events that led to his death.

On that fateful November day in 2014, Nolan’s mother, Kim, made a promise that his death would not be in vain.

“I said whatever we can do to prevent this tragedy from happening to another family, we’re gonna go full force,” she said.

While still planning a funeral, Kim and husband, TJ, already knew something had to change and they were going to be part of that change.

“It really just comes down to it just can’t happen. It’s a senseless, stupid thing that really could have been prevented. It’s not about lecturing to students. It’s showing them this actually happened. It happened here, and we don’t want it to ever happen again,” TJ said.

The documentary shows real footage of Nolan passed out while someone took pictures and videos. It also shows when the paramedics arrived, urging him to breathe.

Kim said it’s huge seeing this tragic moment being used to educate students on the dangers of hazing.

“Nolan always helped people. I always said he would have never left somebody laying there like that. I think he’s working through us, saving lives,” Kim said.

TJ said it’s bittersweet and difficult to watch the footage. To see it though, he said, is much more impactful than just hearing the story.

His parents started the NMB Foundation to teach about the dangers associated with hazing. The Burches’ goal now is to move forward, presenting the documentary to schools and organizations.

Dan Catullo, City Drive Entertainment Group co-founder/CEO and WVU alumni who created the short film, said the hardest question he had to ask the Burches was if he could use the video footage from that night.

“I said, ‘Look, I think we can save lives if you let me use it,’ ” he said.

Catullo said what makes the story so tragic is it could have been prevented. He said it doesn’t take a lot to do the right thing.

“We’re trying to sit here and cement this in kids’ heads so it becomes second nature to them,” he said.

WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris said cultural shifts have already happened at WVU. For him, the good things he sees are students caring and looking out for each other more.

“In life-and-death situations, we need to get to 100% perfection of people making the right decision every time,” he said.

He said nobody should ever hesitate to make a call if someone is in trouble. He said the documentary will be used for future education. It’s not a one-and-done, he said.

Dr. Joshua Dowe, internal medicine and pediatrics specialist, was Nolan’s doctor that night in November. He said it felt special to contribute to Nolan’s legacy and be a part of the awareness campaign of preventing another alcohol-related tragedy.

Dowe, who was in the documentary, explained how excessive drinking can lead to lowered respiration and lowered alertness. He said with education and awareness, he believes lives can be saved at college campuses across the country.

“I’m glad the university is really using this as an opportunity to educate and inform,” he said.

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