August 2, 2010

University mourns killing of research technologist Stephen Pitcairn, 23

Stephen B. Pitcairn, a respected Johns Hopkins research technologist and an aspiring physician, was laid to rest last week in his native Florida, days after he was killed in what police said was an apparent robbery.

Pitcairn, who was 23, was walking home from Penn Station around 11 p.m. on Sunday, July 25, when a man and a woman approached him in the 2600 block of St. Paul Street, demanded money and then stabbed him, according to Baltimore police. Pitcairn had just returned from a weekend visit with his sister in New York and was talking on his cell phone with his mother when he was attacked, police said. Pitcairn died on the scene as a neighbor who heard the attack ran to help him and held his hand, according to police. Two people have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with his death.

In an e-mail to the Johns Hopkins community, Ronald J. Daniels, president of the university, and Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that Pitcairn’s death is a tragedy for his family, friends and colleagues, as well as for Johns Hopkins and for science.

By all accounts, Daniels and Miller said, Pitcairn had “a remarkably promising career in medicine,” and he was in the process of applying to medical school for admission next year with the full support of members of the Johns Hopkins faculty.

“The loss of any member of our Johns Hopkins community impacts us all,” Daniels said in a public statement. “Everyone at the university joins me in expressing our sympathies to Stephen’s family, colleagues and friends.” Miller concurred. “This is a terrible, terrible loss,” he said.

Pitcairn, who died two days before his 24th birthday, was a native of Jupiter, Fla. He worked as a researcher under Gregg Semenza in the School of Medicine’s Institute for Cell Engineering and was assisting Semenza in the study of breast cancer. The young researcher had applied to Semenza’s lab while still a student at Kalamazoo College in Michigan from which he graduated last year with a degree in economics. Semenza said that former Johns Hopkins University President William C. Richardson, now a member of the Kalamazoo College board of trustees, was so impressed with Pitcairn’s undergraduate work that he called Semenza to support Pitcairn’s application to his lab. As an undergraduate, Pitcairn spent a year in Japan working with stem cells in a research lab at Nihon University, and he was fluent in Japanese. He also interned at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the Biomotion Foundation in Palm Beach, Fla.

In June 2009, Pitcairn joined Johns Hopkins as a lab technician and was promoted just a year later to the position of research technologist.

Semenza said he was impressed with Pitcairn and the work he did in the lab.

“Stephen was a remarkable young man and a dedicated member of the team,” Semenza said. “You knew he was going to do great things.”

Following his death, friends and family of Pitcairn’s fashioned a makeshift memorial on the block where he was killed, decorating it with flowers, pictures of him and even a birthday cake.

Pitcairn is survived by his mother and father and two sisters. To express condolences and/or make donations, go to