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Postdoctoral Student Killed in Mexico

Pey-Hua Hwang

STAFF REPORTER

Constantine Giannitsis Ph.D. ’00, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, was murdered by three teenagers on Sunday, Dec. 31 in Taxco, Mexico.

Raised in Greece, Giannitsis was on a trip in Mexico when the three youths, aged 15, 16, and 17, stabbed him and stole his passport along with eight dollars in cash.

According to the Greek Embassy in Washington, Giannitsis was taking photographs in an alley in the historical part of the city when he was confronted and stabbed. He was able to get out of the alley and was taken to the hospital but died a short time later.

Giannitsis’s murderers were arrested by the Embassy and Mexican police on Jan. 3.

Because Giannitsis’s father, Anastassios Giannitsis, is Greece’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Constantine’s death became the focus of much of the Greek media. Friend Jeffrey Scott Ph.D. ’00 said that Giannitsis would probably have shrugged off all the attention with an “oh, come on,” which was one of his common phrases.

Giannitsis’s friends and family will be holding a memorial service at MIT. Ioannis Anagnostakis G, vice president of the Hellenic Students’ Association of MIT, said that Giannitsis’s memorial service will probably not be on February 8 as previously publicized but later in February, so that his family may attend.

Giannitsis is survived by his father, his mother Anna, and younger brother Andreas. He will be buried in Greece.

Giannitsis will be sorely missed

Scott, who came to MIT the same year and took many of the same courses as Giannitsis before coming to share an office with him, said that Giannitsis was “very bright, very hardworking, and had great sense of humor. ... We used to discuss things all the time.” He also prepared a written statement about Giannitsis, remarking that if his friend were still alive he would have been the “first person I would have run it by.”

Many people will miss Giannitsis’s outgoing personality. Nili Harnik Ph.D. ’99, another close friend, described Giannitsis as “very personal” and as someone who “always had a mischievous grin on his face.” She also said that “he really liked the end of parties when good friends would just hang out and talk.”

Scott said that Giannitsis “had very specific ideas about what he wanted and had very strong opinions about what he liked and didn’t like.” He was no less exacting of his work and was the most proud of having successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, Non-Liear Saturation of Vertically Propagating Rossby Waves, that past September. He also loved dancing and photography. Harnik remembered fondly, “he used to come into my office with any new pictures he’d taken and we would discuss the artistic pictures.”

Brian K. Arbic Ph.D. ’00 spoke about Giannitsis’s “amazing curiosity about other cultures. ... Whenever I went to international events he was always there.”

Nathan Srebro G, who worked with Giannitsis in the the MIT International Film Club, also commented “his sort of enthusiasm is what makes I-Film fun.”

Scott added, “He knew too many languages to count,” and always encouraged others to learn more languages as well. Harnik mentioned that when she was learning Spanish, Giannitsis would send her e-mails completely in Spanish and only be too happy to explain any words she didn’t know. When asked what she would say to him if given another chance she said, “I would tell him how much he meant to me.”