Skip to main content

Less than two hours after Edmonton police fished a man's body out of the North Saskatchewan River yesterday, the father of a missing math genius confirmed the city's worst fears about its identity.

"The news is bad. Robert's body has been found," John Barrington Leigh told reporters outside the family's downtown home. "We were not expecting this. . . . Some people are more prepared for the worst than others, but this is the worst."

Edmonton police said an autopsy would be conducted today on Robert Barrington Leigh, 20, but that foul play isn't suspected in connection with his death.

Robert's body was discovered around 11 a.m. by men working in a jet boat on the river for the Edmonton water and sanitation department.

Lisa Lammi, a spokeswoman for the Edmonton police, said a backpack and personal identification was found on the body. She said officers were also planning to use dental records to positively confirm the identity.

The young man, who was considered to be one of the country's top mathematical minds, hadn't been seen since Aug. 13, when he told his parents he was bicycling to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival to meet friends around 10:30 p.m.

When the University of Toronto math and physics student didn't return home, a massive search of the area began as hundreds of volunteers scoured Edmonton's river valley. His family told reporters they were baffled about his disappearance and suspected foul play could be involved because it was out of character for the tall, soft-spoken man to just vanish.

At one point, Edmonton police also helped with the nine-day search that quickly gained national media attention. The official police search was called off Friday night when officers failed to turn up clues about what could have happened to the math scholar, who was in Edmonton visiting family.

Mr. Barrington Leigh choked back tears when he thanked the community, police and news media for their efforts in trying to locate Robert.

"We couldn't have got this far without the incredible support we got from everybody," the retired physicist said. "I just have to hope that every community, when something like this happens, has the benefit of support at this level that we've had."

He said that his family -- Robert is survived by three siblings and his parents -- wanted space to privately grieve and come to terms with his death. "Nobody knows anything more than that we found the body," Mr. Barrington Leigh said.

Robert's family had worked tirelessly to locate him. At the family home, multiple phone lines were set up, along with a website (, featuring photos, a timeline of events leading to his disappearance and daily updates on the search. His family had also posted a $5,000 reward for any information.

Robert's family described him as a brilliant, but shy, young man who was "at his happiest" before he disappeared. He was ready to start his fourth year at the University of Toronto, and just moved into an apartment with his girlfriend last month.

He prepared a mushroom Parmesan risotto for his family the night he disappeared. Later that evening, he waved goodbye to his mother, Iris, who was sitting on the couch in the family room watching television.

His last known communication was a brief text message he sent to his 22-year-old girlfriend, Lucy Zhang, in Italy at 11:34 p.m. that night. It read: "Good morning! I'm out at the moment so I can't call. Good luck on your mid-term and fondue."