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Robert Barrington Leigh. (CP)

Body pulled from river
Honours math student missing for more than week, foul play ruled out
By The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — The search for an honours math student missing for more than a week ended Tuesday with the discovery of a body in North Saskatchewan River in downtown Edmonton.

Police said the body was found with identification belonging to Robert Barrington Leigh, 20, who studied at the University of Toronto but was visiting family when he disappeared Aug. 13.

"The news is bad. They found Robert’s body in the river," his heartbroken father, John Barrington Leigh, told the Edmonton Sun. "Some people were prepared for the worst and this is the worst."

No foul play is suspected, police spokeswoman Lisa Lammi said in a release.

The body was discovered by men working in a jet boat for the Edmonton water and sanitation department, she said.

"We were out on the river today doing outfall inspections — that’s to make sure the river is clean — and we just came across the body snagged on a tree," said Alan Flynn, one of the workers.

Lammi said it was hoped dental records would provide a positive identification. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.

More than 100 volunteers had been searching for the math and physics whiz in the ravines and streets of Edmonton for more than a week. They distributed more than 25,000 flyers in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver and set up a website.

The family confirmed the death on the website and scheduled a vigil in a riverside park Tuesday night to express their appreciation "for the amazing outpouring of support this week."

Barrington Leigh, who had already won several international math and physics competitions, was on a summer visit when he vanished after telling his parents he was taking his mountain bike to go check out the closing night of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

His last known communication was a brief text message he sent to his girlfriend Lucy Zhang in Italy at 11:34 p.m. that night.

"Good morning! I’m out at the moment so I can’t call. Good luck on your mid-term and fondue."

There was no further activity on his cellphone records and his credit cards weren’t used.

His disappearance baffled his family, who initially suspected foul play. They pointed out the young man was friendly and happy, and never spoke of suicide or depression. His friends echoed that assessment.

But at one point, his brother, Christopher, raised the possibility his sibling had possibly taken a self-imposed "math retreat" and didn’t want to be found.

"If he wanted to hide himself he could," he said.

But Barrington Leigh’s sister, Rosalind, said her brother didn’t fit the reclusive profile that sometimes characterizes eccentric mathematics savants.


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2006 The Halifax Herald Limited