Foul play not suspected as missing U of T math genius found dead in Edmonton river
Aug. 23, 2006. 05:54 AM
His professors believed the University of Toronto student could have been one of math's greatest minds.
Robert Barrington Leigh's full potential will never be known. His body
was found yesterday in a downtown Edmonton river, more than a week
after he was first reported missing.
"This is a really tragic loss to the human race. He's that good," said Andy Liu, a math professor at the University of Alberta.
Leigh, 20, was visiting his family in Edmonton when he disappeared Aug.
13. Police said his identification was found on the body.
news is bad. They found Robert's body in the river," said his
heartbroken father, John Barrington Leigh. "Some people were prepared
for the worst and this is the worst."
Foul play is not suspected, police spokeswoman Lisa Lammi said in a release.
than 100 volunteers scoured streets and ravines as the community became
involved in the search after Barrington Leigh disappeared. They
distributed 25,000 flyers in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver.
A website notified the public of his disappearance and a $5,000 reward was offered as well.
men working in a jet boat for the Edmonton water and sanitation
department discovered the body in the North Saskatchewan River, 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.
It's hoped dental records will provide a positive identification, Lammi
said. An autopsy is scheduled for today. The willingness of so many to
help find the math and physics whiz is not surprising. His friend Roger
Mong said Barrington Leigh was quiet, but always friendly.
two often competed in math competitions together and while Barrington
Leigh was "obviously brilliant," Mong said he was always humble.
was very, very good at what he did. But he wasn't very cutthroat
competitive, he was always very friendly and very willing to help
others," Mong said.
Liu dismisses the stereotype that those who
excel in math are introverts. He said Barrington Leigh was an avid
runner and mountain climber. He was always a polite person, said Liu,
who described his former student this way: "The word angelic comes to
mind. He's about the nicest person you can find. He was very
kind-hearted," Liu said.
Barrington Leigh attended an invitation-only math conference with Liu this spring and the Star
wrote about his experience as he mingled with some of math's greatest minds.
"This is not quite my thing. I study all day. I'm in a different mathematical mood," he said in April.
was open to new experiences though, and when a presentation discussed
the more artistic aspects of math, Barrington Leigh was happy to
attempt something new.
"I'm not so interested in the art," he confessed, "but I'll try to be; I don't want to be too one-dimensional."
Liu runs a math club for elementary school students and teens in Edmonton and he remembers the day he met Barrington Leigh.
10 years old, Barrington Leigh was younger than most of Liu's students,
but the teacher readily admits, "Robert was not your normal child."
said his pupil grasped the abstract concepts of math early, and while
the youth had aspired to be a scientist like his older brother, he soon
confessed to Liu that he had changed his mind — he now wanted to study
Some call Liu a mentor for Barrington Leigh, but he quickly
dismisses the idea. He said he can't take credit for Barrington Leigh's
"It's like hockey, how could anyone coach Wayne Gretzky?" Liu said.
was hard to miss Barrington Leigh's potential. When he was a first-year
university student, he enrolled in a third-year advanced math course.
His professor, Edward Bierstone, said he was the best student in the class.
describes him as very articulate and an exceptional writer. Barrington
Leigh, who would have begun his last year at the university in
September, spent a lot of time in the math department, Bierstone said.
He could often be found in the student lounge discussing life — and
math — with his friends.
Bierstone, who has been teaching at the
University of Toronto since 1973, said he has no doubt Barrington Leigh
would have gone on to study at one of the top graduate schools.
"He was certainly one of the best students I had during my time teaching," Bierstone said.
parents last saw him the night he disappeared. He told them he was
taking his mountain bike to go check out the final 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 cell phone records and his credit cards weren't used.
family organized a vigil in a riverside park last night to express
their appreciation "for the amazing outpouring of support this week."
With files from Canadian Press