Death of Philip Gale

Death of Philip Gale
Death of Philip Gale
Philip Gale
Philip Gale
Date March 13, 1998 (1998-03-13)
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts

The death of Philip Gale by suicide took place on Friday March 13, 1998. Gale fell to his death from a classroom window on the fifteenth floor of a building on the MIT campus. Before ending his life, Gale (a pioneering internet software developer, computer prodigy, and avid musician) had earned roughly a million dollars worth of stock options for his innovative internet service provider (ISP) programs at EarthLink.[1]



Philip Chandler Gale (born 1978, Los Angeles, California) and his sister Elizabeth were the children of Marie Gale, a Scientology official, and David Gale, a software programmer who died from a heart attack in 1995.[2][3] Gale was profoundly affected by his father's death, and still struggling to come to terms with it at the time of his suicide.[4][5]

Gale was educated at The Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon, a private boarding school based on the ideas of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.[6] He started education at The Delphian School, at the age of eight,[6] graduated from there at age 14[4] and was admitted to MIT at the age of fifteen.[7][8] At MIT, he joined the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity as a freshman in the fall of 1994, and by the time of his suicide had chosen to major in music.[2][7]

Gale took a break from MIT at the age of sixteen, working at EarthLink Network Inc. for a year, as director of research and development, after writing a key software program called Total Access at MIT.[5][9] The software allowed EarthLink's internet servers to connect far more customers to the Internet, giving the firm a competitive advantage and enabling its ascent to the top ranks among ISPs, acquiring one million customers and a market worth of $2 billion.[5] Before his seventeenth birthday, Gale earned stock options worth about a million dollars and a USD$70,000 salary at the Los Angeles-based company, which was run according to Hubbard's management principles.[5][4]


After an investigation and an autopsy by Cambridge police, Gale's death at the age of nineteen,[10] late on the evening of March 13, 1998, was ruled a suicide.[1] Gale was a sophomore at MIT at the time of his death.[11] For weeks, Gale had been asking classmates how to access the roof of MIT's tallest structure, the Green Building.[4] On the blackboard of the MIT classroom in the Green Building, he wrote out Isaac Newton's equation for how an object accelerates as it falls, along with a sketch of a stick figure of someone tossing a chair. He signed the message, "Phil was here," picked up a chair, hurled it and then himself through a window on the fifteenth floor of the Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences building, commonly known as the Green Building.[9][12] Eric Plotsky, a graduate of MIT, was inside the building watching television at the time of Gale's death, and heard a crashing sound.[10] Plotsky recounted to National Public Radio, "The windows of the building were sealed. So he actually had to throw a chair out the window to break it so that he could jump through. The noise that we heard was that chair hitting the ground. Some of the people in my dorm actually looked out the window in time to see him fall."[10]

"It was typical Phil. It's so like him to have planned a show," said an ex-girlfriend, Wellesley College student Christine Hrul, "He was so careful with things in his life, so methodical."[4] Students reported hearing the sound of breaking glass, then a splintering sound, and finally a scream which sounded like "an echoing wail".[13]

In part, Gale's suicide note read "Presumably I have jumped from a tall building. [...] I am not crazy, albeit driven to suicide. It is not about any single event, or person. It is about stubborn sadness, and a detached view of the world. I see my life—so much dreary, mundane, wasted time wishing upon unattainable goals—and I feel little attachment to the future. But it is not so bad, relatively. I exaggerate. In the end, it is that I am unwilling (sick of living) to live in mediocrity. And this is what I have chosen to do about it. The saddest part is the inevitable guilt and sorrow I will force on my family and friends. But there is not much I can say. I am sorry. Try to understand that this is about me and my 'fuked up ideas.' It is not because I was raised poorly or not cared for enough. It just is. [...] take care world, Philip." Gale closed his handwritten suicide note, found at his apartment, with a smiley face and the words "And stay happy!"[5]

Media coverage

Gale was raised a Scientologist, but at the time of his death Gale had not actively been one for years. Gale fully abandoned his Scientology beliefs while he was at EarthLink. According to Brian Ladner, his best friend at Earthlink said "Leaving Scientology was a traumatic experience. He was brought up thinking it was the only way,"[4] Speculation on campus, and on the Internet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, about the role Gale's Scientologist upbringing might have played in his suicide.[4][5][2] The notion was dismissed by people at MIT that Gale had been close to, who said that Scientology had not been on Gale's mind at the time he took his life.[2] Lauren McLeod a reported with the Concord Journal and friend of Gale's said that he had been coming to terms with the recent death of his father who had died of a heart attack.[4] During his time at Earthlink Ladner says he introduced Gale to Church of the SubGenius, which specializes in debunking cults and has developed its own cult following.[5] While they worked together at Earthlink Ladner reported that Gale hung a poster of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, SubGenius' fictional spiritual leader, on his office door.[5]

People magazine featured Gale's story in a 2001 series of articles on suicides at MIT, describing him as a music major, "so prodigiously bright that he counted few of his much older peers as intellectual equals."[8] In August 2001, National Public Radio program All Things Considered noted that in the wake of Gale's death, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had investigated how to deal with issues of student suicides.[10] Eric Plotsky commented to National Public Radio, "In many ways, suicide has been looked on as something that's just part and parcel of life at the institute. That ingrained thinking historically, I think, has prevented administrators from looking at suicide as a problem to which there might be some reasonable response."[10] The investigative report released by MIT identified deficiencies within its mental health program.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Bulletin: Male Sophomore Falls to Death". The Tech (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). March 14, 1998. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Chung, Jennifer (April 3, 1998). "Gale's Death Prompts Questions on Scientology". The Tech (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 118 (16): 1. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  3. ^ Gale, Marie (June 27, 1993). "Report abuse by psychologists". The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Publishing Company): p. A15. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Mallia, Joseph (May 21, 1998). "Why did this brilliant MIT student jump to his death?". Boston Herald (Herald Media Inc.). Archived from the original on October 6, 1999. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Ebner, Mark (April 29, 1999). "Death of a Nethead". New Times Los Angeles (Gawker). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Krueger, Curtis (November 10, 1991). "Members laud schooling, church's no-drug stance; Series: Scientology's children". St. Petersburg Times: p. 13-A. 
  7. ^ a b "Student dies in fall from Bldg 54". MIT news (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). March 18, 1998. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Coloma, Sonny (November 28, 2003). "Vector: Descent into despair". BusinessWorld (BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation): p. 5. 
  9. ^ a b Hussain, Zareena (March 17, 1998). "Gale Falls to Death from Green Building Classroom". The Tech (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 118 (13). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Siegel, Robert; Tovia Smith (August 29, 2001). "Massachusetts Institute of Technology looks for ways to deal with the incidence of student suicides in recent years". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). 
  11. ^ Herper, Matthew J. (November 1, 1999). "Binge and Purge: Scolding students won't make them safer". Reason (Reason Foundation). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  12. ^ Landrigan, India F. (March 16, 1998). "MIT Student Dead After Apparent Suicide". Harvard Crimson (Harvard University). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  13. ^ Canellos, Peter S. (March 24, 1998). "Campus Suicides Leave Many Students Reelings MIT, Harvard, UMASS Coping with Tragedies". The Boston Globe (The New York Times Company). 

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