Rising College third-year David Stein was found dead by apparent suicide in his Hyde Park studio apartment Friday, June 27. It was his 20th birthday.
Stein, a neurobiology concentrator from the northern Chicago suburb of Glencoe, was remembered Monday as a studious and inquiring lover of science whose quirky sense of humor found a perfect match when he matriculated at the University of Chicago in the autumn of 2006. He was subletting an apartment in Hyde Park this summer while he took a course in organic chemistry.
Family, friends, and acquaintances said they were shocked to learn of his death over the weekend. Although the official cause of death is yet to be determined, Dean of Students in the College Susan Art said that it appeared to be “self-inflicted.”
According to Seth Stein, David’s father, his son’s body was found in his apartment by officers Friday night after his family called the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) when he did not arrive home as scheduled that evening. He typically rode the train when making trips home, his father said.
“He was due home for dinner and birthday cake,” said Stein, a professor of geology at Northwestern University, from his Glencoe home. “We contacted the University police. They went to his apartment. They together with the Chicago Police told us that he was dead.”
UCPD officials offered no comment Monday.
Seth Stein said that he last saw David Sunday, June 22, and that he had spoken with him by telephone the following Wednesday. It is not yet clear how long he had been dead when his body was discovered.
Stein is the second University affiliate to die by suicide in recent months. In December, College graduate Alexander Bethurem (A.B. ’07), a fixture of the Regenstein Library’s Ex Libris coffee shop, was found dead in his Chicago home.
Statistics on the University of Chicago’s student suicide history were not immediately available. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth aged 20 to 24, behind accidents and homicides. But many suicide experts believe that among college students, suicide may be the second-leading cause because of the lesser prevalence of homicide among that group compared with the general population of the same age bracket.
A 2002 National Mental Health Association study estimated that more than 1,000 suicides occur on college campuses each year.
Seth Stein said that he was willing to talk about his son’s death because the rate of suicide on college campuses “is a huge, huge problem.”
“I’m shattered by the whole thing. It’s like someone ripped a part of your heart out,” he said.
“He was our ‘that kid”’
Although Stein had suffered episodes of depression while a student at New Trier High School in Winnetka, after he arrived at the University and settled into his Snell-Hitchcock dorm his family believed that he had overcome most of his personal troubles, Seth Stein said.
“He was getting As in his classes, he was active in the house government, and a variety of things like that,” he said.
While living in Snell-Hitchcock last year, Stein, the nephew of Oriental Institute director Gil Stein, had served as house secretary of Hitchcock House.
“He wrote very funny minutes for our dorm that everyone really appreciated. He was one of the few secretaries who was regular about that,” said Jenny Sax, Stein’s resident head.
An e-mail sent out to members of the Snell-Hitchcock community by Resident Master Kit Chaskin Saturday informed students of Stein’s death and invited them to an informal remembrance gathering.
“By all accounts, David was a kind and thoughtful guy who made strong connections to this community during his two years here,” she wrote.
Seth Stein said that his son had relished his time at Snell-Hitchcock.
“Snell-Hitchcock is sort of a zany kind of place, and he liked that part about it. He said that so much about it was like [the Harry Potter book series'] Hogwarts,” Seth Stein said. “He loved it there, he loved it there. [The U of C] was his first choice and he planned on staying there…. He basically found a community of kids that he liked.”
He was an active participant in this year’s Scav Hunt, and had aided his house to victory for the second straight year.
Aside from that, as a budding scientist, “he liked the cachet of living in a building that Enrico Fermi lived in,” Stein said.
Reached by telephone Monday, some of Stein’s closest friends were not yet ready to speak about their friend’s passing.
But Anna McGeachy, a friend and fellow Snell-Hitchcock resident who lived down the hall from Stein, said that Stein was “for the most part quiet and pretty studious…. We mostly talked about science together.”
Still, McGeachy recalled one instance when Stein had asked to borrow her cat-ears headband “and anything else that resulted in him looking like a mouse of some sort,” she said.
According to Seth Stein, as part of an assignment for his Hebrew class, David had decided to wax creative by using stuffed animals to demonstrate the array of creatures represented in a biblical passage.
His enthusiasm for his religion also manifested itself in his regular visits to the Newberger Hillel Center, where, according to center executive director Daniel Libenson, “he was somebody that was thinking a lot about his own Jewish identity and was always interested in what was going on at Hillel.”
“He was somebody who was always involved in various impromptu conversations. He also wasn’t tremendously outgoing…but I didn’t perceive him as a shy person,” Libenson said.
Stein spent last summer participating in a study abroad program in Israel, where he learned Hebrew and traveled extensively.
Even at Hillel, Stein found opportunities to express his quirky humor. While reading a passage from the Book of Esther during the festive Jewish holiday of Purim, Stein used comical voices to represent each of the characters in the story.
“Most of the time students are concerned that they aren’t going to read the Hebrew correctly,” Libenson said.
In a June 21 birthday greeting written to friend and fellow third-year Jory Harris and posted on Harris’s Facebook page, Stein wrote, “Sing and rejoice! For many aeons ago today, Jory Harris was born [tho' he is yet young]! I hope you’re having an awesome birthday.”
“He was kind of an off-the-beaten path kind of person,” McGeachy said. “He was a ‘that kid,’ but he was our ‘that kid.’”
“He loved serious ideas”
A National Merit scholar and an avid cyclist, Stein also excelled on his high school’s debate team and was a voracious reader of science, science fiction, mysteries, as well as social science and humanities texts. He was named one of his high school’s best history students, and he found a way to join his passions by exploring the relationship between history and science.
When filling out the University’s UnCommon Application as a high school senior, he named Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as his favorite book. “And he had actually read it,” Seth Stein said.
“He was a very bright, articulate, very verbal sort of kid,” he said. “When they assigned Thucydides in class, David was one of the ones who actually read it. He loved serious ideas, science fiction, Sherlock Holmes. He had a very broad range of interests.”
Once at the University of Chicago, Stein discovered his interest in neurobiology and decided to major in the subject. He adorned his bedroom with posters depicting the human brain, his father said.
Stein had worked in the laboratory of neurobiology professor Kamal Sharma, whose research emphasis is on the effect of neurodegenerative diseases on spinal motor circuits. “He was really excited about the opportunities in the field,” Seth Stein said.
Stein’s family has asked that contributions be made to the Friends of the Glencoe Public Library.
According to an e-mail sent to members of the College by Dean of Students Art on July 1, the University will organize a public memorial service for Stein in the fall.
In her e-mail to Snell-Hitchcock residents, Resident Master Chaskin reminded students that personal counseling services are available through the University’s Student Counseling and Resource Service at (773) 702-9800.