A seat left empty: Northwestern grieves as Dmitri Teplov's death ruled a suicide

Melody Song/Daily Senior Staffer

Students have left Post-It notes with condolences on the door of McCormick sophomore Dmitri Teplov. Teplov, 20, was found dead Sunday morning in Pancoe Hall.

Lauren Caruba, In Focus Editor
May 6, 2013 •

When Winston Feng walked into his physics class Monday morning, the seat next to him, normally occupied by friend and classmate Dmitri Teplov, was empty.

“I went to class and I could barely concentrate because I was sitting next to a ghost,” said Feng, a McCormick sophomore. “He was supposed to be sitting there by me.”

Teplov’s death was ruled a suicide Monday by the Cook County medical examiner's office. The McCormick sophomore, 20, was found dead Sunday morning in Pancoe Hall.

Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said a suicide note was found in Teplov's pocket that suggested he planned to hurt himself.

Teplov entered Pancoe through Cook Hall about 4 a.m. Sunday, Parrott said. A janitor found his body between 9:30 and 10 a.m.

Teplov had access to Pancoe, which houses biomedical research labs, because he had worked in one of its labs, Parrott said. However, Teplov had not been to Pancoe in several months.

Police have closed their investigation into Teplov's death because it has been ruled a suicide, and there are no signs of criminal activity.

“Basically, at this point, it’s the University and dealing with the family and assisting them any way that’s possible,” Parrott said.

University Chaplain Tim Stevens said members of Teplov’s family arrived in Chicago late Monday morning, and NU officials met with them about 1 p.m.

“They’re just in shock,” Stevens said. “They just can’t believe what’s happened.”

No plans for a memorial are scheduled at this time, Stevens said.

Teplov's passing marks the third student death this academic year. Weinberg junior Alyssa Weaver and McCormick sophomore Harsha Maddula died two months apart in Fall Quarter.

“We want to obviously do everything we can to prevent deaths like this because they’re so tragic and so needless," Stevens said. "And sometimes these things happen, and there’s not a lot that we can do about that.”

University President Morton Schapiro was in Doha for Northwestern University in Qatar's commencement ceremony when Teplov was found dead, NU spokesman Al Cubbage said.

As University officials respond, the NU community is beginning to feel Teplov's absence. Through mutual classes Winter Quarter and this quarter, Feng said he had gotten to know Teplov well. Aside from physics, the two also took public speaking and organic chemistry classes together.

Feng said although Teplov was shy, preferring video games and technology jokes, he was just like any NU student.

“I just want people to know that he wasn’t some quiet weirdo who sat in the corner of class,” Feng said. “He was just a normal guy who could talk to you and joke with you. He wasn’t someone who felt unapproachable or someone who you’d avoid.”

Like Feng, physics and astronomy Prof. Jens Koch said he did not see Teplov's death coming.

“I liked him. He was one of the few brave people who sat in the first couple of rows in a class of 80 students,” said Koch, who had Teplov in a physics class this quarter. “He was there and participated in class and contributed.”

Koch said it was “hard to digest” Teplov's absence from class Monday.

"I think we’ll all miss him," Koch said. "It was very hard to see his empty chair this morning."

Cat Zakrzewski contributed reporting.

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