Cause of death of Professor Seth Teller is released

UPDATE TO THIS ARTICLE: The chief of MIT's mental health services, Alan Siegel, has written a letter regarding recent deaths of MIT community members.

Professor Seth Teller’s death last Tuesday has been ruled a suicide, according to Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. The cause of death was listed as “blunt trauma to head and torso.”

Teller was 50 when he died on July 1. In an email to the MIT community last week, President L. Rafael Reif said he “knew Seth as a person of great human warmth and intellectual intensity.”

Teller was a faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and led the Robotics, Vision, and Sensor Networks group in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

“He cared deeply about his students as people first, which was welcome relief at MIT,” wrote Paul Hemberger, a current EECS graduate student at MIT, in the comments section of the MIT News Office’s obituary.

In a class on assistive technologies, Teller “guided us along with his incredible breadth of knowledge and caring spirit,” Hemberger continued. “I know many students have been inspired to continue working in this field because of his teaching.”

Information about MIT’s support services can be found at

Anonymous over 9 years ago

I'm not sure if it's appropriate for the Tech to announce that Prof. Teller's passing might be due to suicide. It's a private family matter/

Anonymous over 9 years ago

It's important to remove the secrecy and shame from suicide. It is the fatal result of an untreated or insufficiently treated disease. My condolences to Prof. Teller, his family, colleagues friends. His death is a tragedy, but not something to hide. Perhaps knowing the cause of his death will motivate other depressed people to get the help they need.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

The MIT Administration, without fail, needs to address this event. Seth left an astounding legacy. But his life needs to be separated from his death. His legacy will not be tarnished. To all who knew Seth, his intellectual pursuits were relentlessly pure. I am not privy to all the facts, but I do not foresee his legacy being challenged. His death on the other hand, needs to be addressed. He was incredibly well-respected among the faculty, staff, and students. It needs to be made clear that even rightfully well-respected individuals can travel paths that should not be followed. This is one such situation. It pains me to write this comment, both for the immense loss and for the difficult conversations that will need to be had going forward.

Jean Cummings over 9 years ago

I am afraid that I feel that the desire of a family to control the information to two young children on the circumstances of the death of their father trumps your perceived need to discuss what you think you know about Seth Teller's death, which I assure you is very little. I am sorry that some people do not have sufficient imagination to be sympathetic to two little girls and feel that they need private information to come to terms with their own lives.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

The Tech should really take a look at its journalistic standards and how they label web articles. Naming the article location as is really awful. "suicide.html" is not a proper way to label any kind of news article. More appropriate choices could have been "TellerCauseDeath.html" or "CauseDeathReleased.html", but "suicide.html" is just sloppy. This is not the first time I've seen the tech be sloppy with its article naming, but this is just disgusting to see such sloppiness on this topic and this event.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

Some believe that Seth Teller received terrible medical news shortly before his death, and that he was the recent Tobin Bridge jumper. Have either been confirmed?

Anonymous over 9 years ago

When I first heard this news, my thoughts immediately went to Seth's wife and children. I'm sure he has other family, as well close friends, who are reeling from this terrible event. Even though I wasn't a close associate, I knew and admired him; he treated me with incredible respect. Since the announcement of his death I feel a pang every time the news comes back to me, and my thoughts go to his wife and daughters. As other posters have noted, he was a brilliant, positive, caring person and everyone who knew him is poorer for his loss. If silence over the cause of his death would solve the pain of his children, wife, and others closest to him, I'd be all for it. Ultimately, secrecy will not help anyone, however. As I look for information, I see more and more speculation. Seth was an intellectually rigorous man. I can't help but think he'd want the truth to be known.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

The Tech's digital address was inappropriate but its headline, "Cause of Death of Prof. Seth Teller" was not. I agree with those who write that it was appropriate for MIT to confirm that it was a suicide for several reasons: 1) When the cause of an untimely death is listed as "unreleased," that is the first thing people suspect anyway. Confirming it just puts to rest the speculations, and takes the burden off the family of having to tell people that or confront their wondering. Without a public announcement, it just hangs in the air. 2) I thoroughly agree with reducing the stigma around suicide, which is almost always the result of well-known mental illness such as depression or psychosis. If someone dies of cancer, it is no different than from suicide, drug addiction, alcohol, or other stigmatized fatal illnesses. 3) Prof. Teller's daughters will not be reading the Tech, and if they are, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what they are going through. For people to talk openly about their father's death is the healthiest thing for them, so they won't feel the shame that comes with having a parent who commits suicide. If people don't talk about it, including their fathers' workplace newspaper, they will also feel they can't talk about it. 4) He was obviously very well loved at MIT and so very important for MIT to accept and commuicate about the cause of death. People don't just die. There is always a reason we lose them.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

I also suspect that the reason it took a week or so to publicize the cause of death is because the family was "controlling the information." My guess is that MIT was communicating with the family, and waited until Prof. Teller's family approved the release of the information. It may have been their desire to have it communicated so they weren't faced with the burden of doing it.

Adel Hanna over 9 years ago

I worked for Seth for 7 years at MIT. I am devastated about his death. Seth was genuinely kind and a great listener. He encouraged me to use my talents and helped bring out the best. Seth was the most creative professor I ever learned from. I attribute my success in life to the intellectual education I received from him. Good bye Seth I will miss you dearly.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

It is very sad when ever someone commits suicide. It also leaves a wide path of devastation. Those who knew him are left with the pain of the loss and the pain that is due entirely to the choice made by the person who committed suicide. While Dr. Teller was not a public figure in the usual sense, he had an impact on a lot of people. All the people he impacted in whatever way and for whatever reason in his lifetime will also be impacted by his suicide. It is important that they not be further burdened with pressures to avoid discussions or keep this secret or refrain from asking questions. They should not feel they are doing something wrong by seeking information as they try to make sense of what happened. Certainly allowing the family to have privacy at this time is desirable but the well being of everyone he influenced, especially students, is equally important. I am so sorry for the loss to the family and the MIT community.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

This was not MIT's or the family's information to control. The announcement was made by the Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiners Office. Death certificates are public records in most states. If the Medical Examiner's announcement was not printed in The Tech, it would have been disseminated elsewhere.

Those who say that the children should have been protected are living in another era -such protection is just not possible anymore (and probably never was - before we had webs we had grapevines). As one of the other commenters said, when a young person dies and no cause of death is announced, people assume it was suicide anyway.

I assume the reason for the delay had nothing to do with any desire to shield the family but related to the Medical Examiner's investigation. In some cases what appears at first to be a suicide may in fact be a homicide so even in cases that appear obvious there must first be some sort of investigation.