July 2, 2009

08/13/06: Robert Barrington Leigh, 20, Edmonton, AB, Canada


Robert Barrington Leigh, a promising 20-year old math and physics whiz at the University of Toronto, was home for two weeks to visit his parents in Edmonton, Alberta. On Aug. 13, 2006, he waved goodbye to his mother, who was sitting on the couch watching TV, and headed off on his bike to the nearby Edmonton Folk Festival  to meet some friends.

Around 11:30 p.m., he text-messaged his girlfriend, Lucy Zhang, who was studying in Italy, to tell her that he was in Queen Elizabeth Park heading toward the festival in Gallagher Park and would not be able to call her later. According to Lucy, he wished her luck on her mid-term exams and "there was nothing weird about his message."

But he never returned home.

The disappearance led the local newscasts for nine days until his body was found in the North Saskatchewan River across from Gallagher Park, the site of the festival.



 
The Search for Robert Barrington Leigh
 
When he disappeared, one of Robert's math professors, Dr. Edward Bierstone said, "we expect him to go on to graduate studies at one of the world's top universities, and to have a brilliant career. His disappearance is highly uncharacteristic of Robert."



In fact, it was so uncharacteristic, Robert's parents did not wait for the Edmonton police to issue an alert, they went directly to the media on August 15 to appeal to the public for help. His mother, Iris, told the media they felt something bad had happened to him. His father, retired physicist John Barrington Leigh, said, "I don't have the best feeling about the situation. He's a gifted mathematician. He's very academic, very straight and narrow. Bad things happen to nice guys. I suspect foul play. That's my instinct."

Suicide did not seem to be a possibility. By all accounts, Robert was happy and looking forward to the future. He just gotten an apartment with his girlfriend two months before his disappearance.

She flew in from Italy to join the hundreds of volunteers who were out searching.   

Robert's brother, Christopher, and sister, Rosalind, arrived from Vancouver and started website, http://www.findrobert.ca/, designed posters, and coordinated volunteer efforts. Ground searchers looked for any of the belongings he had with him--a bike, helmet, backpack, but came up empty handed. The Edmonton Police Service conducted helicopter and dog searches along the North Saskatchewan River and Mill Creek Ravine.


At 11 am on Aug. 22,  2006, "Edmonton firefighters in wetsuits fought fast-flowing currents as they pulled a body from the river near 92nd Street and 99th Avenue. The body was found trapped by deadfall at the side of the river across from Gallagher Park, the site of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Police said the body was found by a contract employee manning a City of Edmonton Water and Sanitation jet boat while inspecting drainage pipes along the riverbank."

The owner of River Tours West, Alan Flynn, discovered the body. He knew of "an abnormal current in the river usually caused by new boulders under the surface" and knew Barrington Leigh was missing, so he decided to go take a look. Flynn told the media, the body "was snagged on some deadfall under the water." His head was to the side and just above the waterline, making it visible as the current moved. Flynn said, "I took one look and I knew it was him."

Flynn called 911 and then stayed with the body until fire rescue boat and police arrived.

Edmonton police homicide detectives assisted in the recovery of the body, but would not comment on its condition. Flynn later told media there were no marks on the body. "He wasn't beat up at all," Flynn said.

According to reports, the body was fully clothed and also had on a wristwatch. It was taken by ambulance to the medical examiner's office. A wallet in his pocket, followed up by dental records later, provided positive identification that Robert Barrington Leigh had been found. Police stated that no foul play was suspected and the death was determined to be non-criminal in nature.

According to Last Link on the Left.com, "Robert's body was found about 984 feet (300 metres) downstream from the footbridge that connects the Gallagher Park and Muttart Conservative areas to Louise McKinney Park on the north side of the river. The bank above the spot where the body was found rises about 25 metres and is very steep. It has yet to be determined how, where or why Robert fell into the swift flowing river."

 
Robert Barrington Leigh


On a family website, his parents recount how as a toddler, Robert, "looked at ceiling lights in their home and realised he could count them quicker if he multiplied them rather than count each one individually."

By grade 6, Robert had joined a math club organized by Andy Liu, a professor at the University of Alberta. He enjoyed participating in a "long-answer" math contest called the International Tournament of the Towns. By grade 11, he was receiving individual tutoring from Liu, the winner of the 1993 Rutherford Teaching Award, on a weekly basis. Of Robert, Liu once stated:
I, Andy Liu, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Alberta, have known Robert since he was about ten years old. He was already very impressive at the time, and it is my greatest pleasure to watch him develop into a fine young man and a great intellect. Of his potential, I can only say that he will surpass anything I have ever done, and much more. How much more is beyond what I can judge, but I will say that he will be one of the most important mathematicians of his time. He has a most pleasant personality, very polite and absolutely non-confrontational. He is a warm and friendly person, extremely kind-hearted and always ready to lend a helping hand. His honesty and integrity, both general and intellectual, are exemplary. He is very well rounded, with good athletic abilities and many other talents. He is a very level-headed and considerate person. Although the sky is the limit, he can focus on what he wants to achieve. He is the happiest person I have known.
Robert went on to become an exceptional student in the Mathematics and Physics Departments at the University of Toronto. By his second year, he was starting taking graduate courses. According to one mentor was "reading 400-level university" journals, typically authored by professors.  He won several top awards at the university and in international mathematics competitions. He also contributed to several publications, including Andy Liu's, The Alberta High School Math Competitions 1957-2006: A Canadian Problem Book and the Hungarian Problem Book IV
 
In his spare time, he enjoyed chatting with friends, playing the piano, running, and exploring computer programming. He was also a member of the Nordic ski club.

Robert Barrington Leigh was regarded as one of the university's "most outstanding undergraduate students we ever had," according to a departmental newsletter.  Having already fulfilled the requirements of his degree a year early when he died, the university awarded him a posthumous degree in June 2007.


Details
Name/age: Robert Barrington Leigh, 20
College: University of Toronto
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
Description: 6'1", approx. 150, slim build, short brown hair, hazel eyes, British accent. Last seen wearing short-sleeved button-down shirt, brown leather shoes, blue Mountain Equipment Co-op fleece jacket, blue bicycle helmet, carrying blue Mountain Equipment Co-op backpack with purple trim. Was riding a blue Raleigh "Cliffhanger"mountain bike with road tires, plastic fenders, oval headlight, short frame, tall seat.
Last seen: Sun, August 13, at 10:30 p.m. heading to the Edmonton Folk Festival on bike from Old Strathcona, probably through the Mill CreekRavine and Cloverdale. His bank account and credit card was not used after he went missing.
Recovered: August 22, 11:00 a.m., North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Sources


Published July 2, 2009. Last updated: Jan. 1, 2013.

3 comments:

KELLIESUE said...

was his bike or helmet ever found.If not he would be the third boy who's bike has never been found
My prayers are with his family.he sounded like a real nice kid!!

Mbaz said...

Mardi gras, bars, new years eve, festivles.

This guy knows how to hunt.

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