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Gale Falls to Death from Green Building Classroom

Rich Fletcher--The Tech
Scraps of wood and broken glass litter the ground in front of the Green Building Friday evening.

By Zareena Hussain
Contributing Editor

Philip C. Gale '98 fell to his death from a classroom on the fifteenth floor of the Green Building Friday evening in an apparent suicide.

Gale, a music major and member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, returned to MITin 1996 to complete his studies after taking a leave of absence from the Institute. Originally from Charlotte N.C., Gale first came to MIT four years ago at the age of 15, but left to serve as Director of Research and Development for Earthlink Network, an internet service provider, from March 1995 until March 1996. Gale lived off-campus in an apartment in Central Square after his return to the Institute.

Police informed immediately

An anonymous male contacted the Campus Police at 7:27 p.m. Friday to report the sound of breaking glass followed by a scream and a person falling outside Building 54, said Chief of Police Anne P. Glavin.

A wooden chair was reportedly thrown out of the window of a classroom on the fifteenth floor on the side of the building facing the Charles River. Shortly thereafter, Gale fell to his death from the broken window, Glavin said. Gale was pronounced dead upon arrival at Massachusetts General Hospital after being transported from the scene by Cambridge Rescue. Multiple agencies reported to the scene, including the Boston and Cambridge Police, Glavin said.

Whether the death was a suicide has yet to be determined, Glavin said. The Middlesex County Medical Examiner said that the death was caused by "multiple traumatic injuries."

While there was no suicide note left in the classroom, "some information was left in the room," Glavin said. She would not comment on the nature of that information.

Gale had been preparing to take an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program position in the Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group at the Media Lab, said Professor of Music and Media Tod E. Machover, Gale's UROP adviser.

Gale had taken Machover's course in Musical Aesthetics and Media Technology (MAS.825J) during the fall term. He designed graphical music game designed for children that "was absolutely unique and remarkable" as his final project in the course, Machover said.

Machover, recognizing the quality of Gale's final project, had invited Gale to continue work on the project as a UROP student after the class was over.

"As seemed typical of Phil, he went his own way, and after three months of not hearing from him, he got back to me just last week with another - completely different - idea for a UROP project. Phil proposed to develop a way of analyzing extremely diverse sounds - everything from crowd noises to nature sounds to machine clanging, specifically from the Central Square area - so that they could be organized and associated according to rhythmic loudness, and coloristic similarities," Machover said.

"Phil was going to start work on the project right away, and I have no doubt that it would have yielded spectacular and unexpected results."

Gale also impressed coworkers at Earthlink. "He was without a doubt the most intelligent guy I ever met. He was brilliant in nearly every respect," said Brian Murphy, who worked in the same division as Gale at Earthlink.

"He could have done anything he wanted in life, there just aren't that many people like him," Murphy said. "I was utterly shocked when I heard about the suicide. I would have never considered him to be suicidal."

"He was just a really nice guy. I couldn't think of a single bad thing about him if I'd tried," Murphy said.

While at Earthlink, Gale designed Total Access, the company's internet registration software, said Kirsten Kappos, vice-president of corporate communications at Earthlink.

Many students witness suicide

Many students called to report the incident to the police, Glavin said.

"By the end, there were a couple of dozen people around," said Brian T. Sniffen '00, who witnessed the fall from his room in East Campus.

Reaction to the fall was varied, ranging from extreme illness to something approaching levity.

"Personally, I fell into the physical illness category," Sniffen said. "I will never forget that scream."

"Some people seemed to be taking it very lightly. They seemed to be almost cheerful," Sniffen said. They "seemed not to really understand all the implications."

Counseling services available

Students in need of counseling are encouraged to contact the Office of Counseling and Support Services and the Mental Health Department of MITMedical, said Kimberly G. McGlothin, assistant dean for CSS.

"I would definitely encourage students who need to talk to someone" to make use of these services, McGlothin said.

Counseling deans talk to students confidentially and help to take care of academic concerns that might result from emotional trauma, McGlothin said.

Other resources include Nightline, which is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at 253-3880, and the Medlink dormitory residents, McGlothin said.

Dan McGuire contributed to the reporting of this story.