Promising Princeton Student Kills Self Over Rapes

Photo: Bill Zeller, Princeton Grad Student And Brilliant Programmer, Dies In Apparent Suicide
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A promising Princeton graduate student who had been haunted by childhood rapes killed himself this week, leaving a 4,000-word suicide note disclosing the "darkness" that stalked him.

Bill Zeller, 27 and a "brilliant programmer," died Wednesday after suffering brain damage due to oxygen deprivation from a suicide attempt, according to the Daily Princetonian newspaper.

He was found by the university's public safety officers on Sunday and was brought to Princeton Medical Center, where he remained in a coma for three days before he was removed from life support.

Zeller was pursuing a doctorate in computer science.

His suicide note shocked family and friends with an exhaustive description of repeated rapes as a young child. He did not name his abuser, but referred to a male.

That letter was published on the Princetonian website.

In his suicide note, Zeller described an "inconsolable rage," and said programming had been an appealing career because "I was able to keep the darkness at bay for a few hours at a time."

"My first memories as a child are of being raped, repeatedly," he wrote. "This has affected every aspect of my life."

He said the abuse had destroyed his career, his ability to function and even his relationships with women.

"This darkness, which is the only way I can describe it, has followed me like a fog, but at times intensified and overwhelmed me," he wrote.

The suicide note appeared on his personal website; he also e-mailed it to friend before attempting to take his life, according to the newspaper.

Zeller said in his suicide note that he had never revealed the childhood abuse to anyone until now. He wrote he had been kicked out of his home and financially cut off at age 19. But he also said that he called his family and knew that his mother loved him.

One friend, Amy Barackman, told her mother she had seen his depression and estrangement from family coming and tried to reach out to him Christmas week.

"Twice she invited him to join our family for holiday gatherings, which is how I met him," said her mother, Deborah Barackman of Newtown, Conn., in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "But I know that at root, he probably felt like an outsider, since we weren't his birth family."

Bill Zeller Was Gentleman Who Struggled With Dark Secret

She described Zeller as a "gentleman," but someone who had a "core of sadness and confusion. Barackman said his family had "refused to accept him."

"That rejection, coupled with the shame and nightmare of his abuse, were an unbearably heavy burden," she said. "I now see. I wish I had realized more and could have offered him comfort then."

"The evil violence that ruined his childhood and warped his ability to trust and build lasting intimacy is heinous," said Barackman.

Zeller, who was from Middletown, Conn., and attended Trinity College as an undergraduate, was a talented programmer. He created such applications as Graph Your Inbox, which visualizes Gmail use over time, and myTunes, which enables users to download others' iTunes music.

One in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, according to the Rape, Assault, Incest National Network (RAINN). Survivors are four times more likely than others to consider suicide.

"We hear every day on our sexual assault hotline that this is the first time they have talked about this," said Jennifer Wilson Marsh, director of RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotlines. "When someone is able to speak or type aloud or share the emotional narrative relating to the trauma, there is some distance and it takes it out of the darkness and into the light."

"It's less scary and less shameful and puts those feelings into perspective because it's so overwhelming," she said.

Zeller's suicide only underscores the need for survivors to get help, said Wilson.

Online, friends mourned his death on websites like 1000 Memories.

"In his sweetness he made sure to take me to the Princeton Art museum while we made a trip down to visit him," wrote Rebecca Darling. "It was so sweet that he remembered my major and it was so important to him that we indulged in my interests."

"I'd first encountered Bill online years ago when he made a blog posting app, and then re-meeting him at a Princeton event last year, he'd begun by saying, 'You probably don't remember...'" another user wrote on MetaFilter.

"But we immediately reconnected about the cool project he'd done back then. More amazingly, he was doing super, super brilliant work at Princeton, which I found really inspiring and was so excited to see how far this young guy had come from such promising roots."

Zeller was active in the graduate student government program at Princeton and wrote for an influential technology blog, among other activities.

"The university has lost a very promising computer science student and an individual with many close friends within his research group and across campus," said William Russel, dean of Princeton's graduate school, in a press release on the university's website.

"We in the graduate school and others from university offices offer sincere condolences and continuing support to Bill's family and his friends on campus and across the country," it said. "We are planning a memorial service to provide students and members of the Princeton family an opportunity to honor his memory."

For more information on sexual abuse go to RAINN.

If you have been sexually abused, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline by going online to their instant message format or call 1.800.656.HOPE for free and confidential help, 24/7.

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