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The man who shot himself on the steps of Memorial Church Saturday morning had published online a 1,905-page document entitled “Suicide Note,” according to his mother.
The death of Mitchell L. Heisman, a 35-year-old Somerville resident, on campus was met with shock, and University officials described the incident as “tragic.”
“It’s really sad, it was horrible, and these kinds of incidents affect all of us really negatively,” Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds said in an interview yesterday. “This campus is situated in an urban context, and we can’t control these kinds of things.”
Born in New York City in 1975, Heisman attended elementary school in Monroe Township, N.J., and graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Albany.
While living in a Craigie Street apartment, Heisman wrote “Suicide Note,” a sprawling series of arguments that touch upon historical, religious, and nihilist themes, his mother said.
“He didn’t show me that this was at all what he had in his mind. All I knew was he was finishing his book and he was happy about that,” said his mother Lonni Heisman, 76.
Heisman said she supported publishing her son’s name in The Crimson to let people know of his work “because that’s what he wanted.”
An avid reader interested in mathematics and science, Heisman visited Harvard libraries and may have contacted professors while writing the document, his mother said.
A University spokesman was unable to confirm whether Heisman had reached out to Harvard faculty last night.
The document references Harvard and research done by Harvard faculty—such as Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz, government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, and psychology professor Steven Pinker—more than half a dozen times.
Heisman discusses death at length in the piece, which is publicly available online.
Heisman committed suicide on the top step of Memorial Church Saturday in front of a tour group of more than 20 people, according to a Cambridge Police Department report.
His death took place during Yom Kippur services that morning and resulted in campus security shutting down the eastern half of Harvard Yard for much of the day.
Jared L. Nathanson, a 37-year-old singer who described himself as Heisman’s acquaintance, said he had had conversations with Heisman about art, music, and movies.
Nathanson received a copy of “Suicide Note” in an e-mail that day.
“From what I understood of him, his book was very important to him,” Nathanson said.
Heisman worked in several bookstores in the area and relied on an inheritance from his father Alvin Heisman—who passed away while Mitchell Heisman was still an adolescent—to support his writing, according to his mother.
But he was reluctant to talk to her about its contents, she said.
“I’m devastated. I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I don’t think I ever will.”
She spoke with Heisman just two days before his death, she said.
“I expected him to come here to help me move, which I am in the process of,” she said. “I expected him to come back in October. He really was non-committal.”
—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at email@example.com. —Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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