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Wed, August 23, 2006
Search ends in tragedy

Missing math scholar's body pulled from river


As the family of Robert Barrington Leigh struggles to come to grips with his death, an autopsy will be performed today to determine exactly how the 20-year-old math scholar died.

"We were not expecting this - nobody knew what to expect. Some people were more prepared for the worst than others... This is the worst," his tearful father, John Barrington Leigh, said yesterday, moments after receiving the grim news from police that Robert's body had been pulled from the North Saskatchewan River.

City police spokesman Lisa Lammi said the autopsy will confirm the identity of the body and the cause of death, though police don't suspect that it's a homicide. "There's no evidence on that body of any foul play occurring."

John also asked the public to give the family time to mourn and to wait for answers on how Robert ended up in the river. "Nobody knows anything more than that we've found the body ... There's no file saying, 'This is what happened.' It's a blank."

Robert, a brilliant University of Toronto math scholar, vanished Aug. 13 after leaving his parents' home on his bicycle to meet friends at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

His last contact with loved ones was a text message he sent to his girlfriend Lucy Zhang at 11:34 p.m. that night, wishing her luck on a mid-term exam.

His credit card and bank account had not been touched since, and there had been no activity from his cellphone.

Hundreds of searchers scoured Mill Creek Ravine and other river valley parks for Robert in the week that followed, figuring he may have pedalled through the area on his way to the folk festival.

The search continued full force until a city drainage inspection team, checking pipes on the river, spotted a body caught in some debris in the rushing water near 92 Street and 99 Avenue around 11 a.m. yesterday.

Firefighters in specialized wetsuits swam through the swift current, caught hold of the body and pulled it into their own jet boat, where it was covered with a brown blanket.

A driver's licence and other identification on the body - still fully clothed in blue jeans, a blue jacket, brown shoes and a wristwatch when it was found - belonged to Robert, said Lammi.

His backpack was also found on the body.

There was no word on whether the bike he was riding when he went missing has been found or not.

Moments after police delivered the tragic news, family members sobbed and embraced inside the home - where a poster reading " help us!" still hung in the front window.

"I just have to hope that every community, when something like this happens, has the benefit from support at this level," said John, who also praised city police for their efforts.

Last night, 150 mourners turned out for a candlelight vigil at Queen Elizabeth Park, where John circulated among the crowd, personally thanking them for their support.

Among the crowd were former schoolteachers of Robert's and faculty from the University of Alberta, where his father worked.

  • Drainage worker made grisly discovery

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