Updated: Dmitri Teplov a guiding force for his online friends

McCormick sophomore Dmitri Teplov and friend Takuya Mori pose for a self-portrait last year at the bean-shaped Cloud Gate in Chicagos Millennium Park. Mori is one of several friends Teplov knew from the Internet who were stunned by his death earlier this month.

Source: Takuya Mori

McCormick sophomore Dmitri Teplov and friend Takuya Mori pose for a self-portrait last year at the bean-shaped Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Mori is one of several friends Teplov knew from the Internet who were stunned by his death earlier this month.

Patrick Svitek, Managing Editor

This summer was supposed be a big one for Brittany Neumann. She was finally going to see her boyfriend of six months for the first time in person. She was going to spend a few weeks with him at his home in New York and even meet his parents.

“I wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty, and he told me I was going to be such a tourist,” Neumann said. “I didn’t care where we went. Everything was too good.”

As Neumann signed off Skype about 10 p.m. May 4, she remembered one last conversation with McCormick sophomore Dmitri Teplov, who hours later killed himself in Pancoe Hall, marking the third student death and second suicide this academic year.

“I told him that because I was working so much, I was sorry, that I missed him, and I made him smile and I told him it was my favorite thing in the whole world,” Neumann said, her voice cracking. “And then we laughed and everything was fine. I didn’t think anything of it. Then I told him I had to go and I would talk to him tomorrow, and we said good night and told each other we loved each other.”

‘One of the most caring guys I’ve ever known’

If Teplov’s death was an electric jolt for a campus confronted with a mental health crisis, it was paralyzing for the small circle of close friends he almost exclusively interacted with on the Internet.

“It was like somebody punched me in the face,” said Neumann, who lives near Toronto, Canada, more than 500 miles away from NU.

In tearful interviews over Skype this week, Teplov’s online friends described him as a compassionate listener who always consoled them in times of need. They spoke to The Daily because they want Teplov to be remembered not only as the exceptional student shown in previous reports, but also as a loyal companion who never let down those closest to him.

Tyler Fernandes, 18, called Teplov “one of the most caring guys I’ve ever known.” Takuya Mori, 21, said it was “really easy to open up” to Teplov, even about deeply personal matters.

“In literally every sense of the word, he put everything to do with me first,” Neumann said. “It didn’t matter if I was having a bad day and he was, too. He would make sure I was in a better mood before he even brought up the fact he had a bad day.”

The three friends all met Teplov through a massively multiplayer online game and got to know him as their interactions moved from message boards to Skype. Mori even visited Teplov on campus for a weekend last year.

The two wandered around Chicago, attending a concert at the Adler Planetarium and taking a self-portrait of their reflection in the bean-shaped Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Mori, who lives in Novi, Mich., wanted to visit Teplov again this summer.

“We really didn’t have any plans,” Mori said. “We figured we’d have fun together no matter what, anyway.”

Last year, as Fernandes grappled with a violent sickness and his own thoughts drifted toward suicide, he turned to Teplov.

“He was the main one who forced me to push on,” said Fernandes, who knew Teplov for three years. “I was ready to give up that day. He was there for me hours on end. It’s hard to explain. He was just there.”

Fernandes, who lives in Kitchener, Canada, recently learned through other friends that Teplov was planning to surprise him in person this summer. Fighting back tears, Fernandes said he wished he would have found out sooner.

Marianna Teplova, Teplov’s mother, hopes more of her son’s online friends come forward with their remembrances. Teplova, a senior research scientist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said she was aware of Neumann and another acquaintance who visited her son at NU.

“I am afraid I cannot tell you much about his friends online,” Teplova wrote in an email to The Daily. “I wish I knew more of them.”

Picking up the pieces

The three friends are now left with agonizing questions that may never be answered. They are sifting through old chats, looking for any clues. They are reading and rereading his Facebook posts. They are hoping they could close their eyes and it will all be over — “a sick joke,” as Fernandes puts it.

They knew Teplov kept to himself, rarely speaking of NU outside the occasional gripe about organic chemistry. They knew he was stressed out — but not any more than the average college student. They knew he sometimes seemed isolated, once telling Mori he felt “out of place” walking through campus.

“He did a really good job of upholding an image of being all right,” Mori said.

But they did not know he would enter Pancoe Hall through the adjoining Cook Hall about 4 a.m. May 5, using access he had gained as a research assistant for the Department of Molecular Biosciences. They did not know why he would do what happened next.

“I just want people to know that he had people who really cared for and loved him,” Fernandes said. “I just want people to know that he did the same for the people that loved him, too. … He touched me on a very personal level. He was literally one of my best friends.”

‘I wait for him’

As the sun set on Evanston on May 4, Teplov’s friends said they saw nothing out of the normal.

Teplov swapped links to viral videos with Fernandes, riffed on the latest news on campus with Mori and replied to Neumann, telling her he loved her and could not wait for this summer.

“I wait for him,” Neumann said. “I’ve been waiting for him. As if he’s going to log on any second now. And I know he won’t. And I’m not sure what to do.”