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Remembering my son who was murdered in Charles Village a decade ago | COMMENTARY

Stephen Pitcairn and his parents, Ian and Gwen Pitcairn, before the Johns Hopkins researcher was killed while walking home from the train station a decade ago.
Stephen Pitcairn and his parents, Ian and Gwen Pitcairn, before the Johns Hopkins researcher was killed while walking home from the train station a decade ago. (Handout photo)

Ten years ago, my son Stephen Pitcairn was hunted down and murdered on St. Paul Street on his way home to Charles Village, as his mom, whom he’d been talking to, listened in horror on her cellphone. Stephen was walking back from the train station after visiting his sisters and cousin in New York. He offered up all his possessions and was murdered for no reason other than the thrill. A local man ran to his aid, but it was too late.

This happened July 25, 2010, at about 11:30 p.m., two days before Stephen’s 24th birthday.

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Fortunately, with a little luck and great police work, the perpetrators were caught and convicted. We remain grateful to Gregg L. Bernstein, former Baltimore State’s Attorney, and the work of his team, with special thanks to Assistant State’s Attorney Josh Felsen, as well as Judge Charles Peters and the members of the jury.

We are thankful that this tragedy was brought to closure. Until it happens to you or someone you know, you never realize this happens every day, every month and every year, and affects thousands of people’s lives. My heart goes out to all the friends and families that have lost loved ones to preventable violence, especially to those who never see any closure.

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Stephen had applied to medical school, inspired by his work as a research technologist under Dr. Gregg Semenza at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Institute for Cellular Engineering. A Japanese maple tree stands in Stephen’s memory on the East Baltimore Campus, and a photo collage at the lab. We thank Dr. Semenza for guiding Stephen to his passion, and also thank former Johns Hopkins University President, William C. Richardson for supporting Stephen’s application after meeting him as an undergraduate at Kalamazoo College, where Dr. Richardson was serving on the board of trustees.

Stephen never made it to medical school, but a family friend, Jacquie Asplundh, helped secure a $10,000 challenge grant that doubled every gift of $100 or more. News of the scholarship fund and challenge grant spread rapidly on the Hopkins campus and beyond. A Facebook page that Ms. Asplundh created, as well as newspaper and online tributes, touched people’s hearts and moved them to contribute. In six weeks, 125 gifts totaling nearly $30,000 were received — ranging from as little as four dollars to significantly larger amounts, and coming from donors as far away as Japan.

The Stephen B. Pitcairn Memorial Scholarship is now fully endowed and awards deserving medical school students at Johns Hopkins who come from a non-science background, like Stephen. My family has received letters from each of the recipients of the scholarships over the years, and while their stories are a reminder of what Stephen was denied, we are comforted to know his legacy lives on through their education.

The scholarship doubled in 2018 with gifts (matched by an anonymous donor) in honor of Stephen’s sister’s wedding. Since then, we have been blessed by the birth of Stephen’s niece. To celebrate Stephen’s life and the education of medical students, I will give $10,000 to the Stephen B. Pitcairn Memorial Scholarship Fund this month and will match another $10,000 with gifts received by Dec. 31, 2020.

I am grateful for the gifts sent by family and friends in the past, and my family thanks the citizens of Baltimore for their support, both with gifts to the fund, as well as to the outpouring of letters to us through The Baltimore Sun. I invite you to join me in supporting future doctors with a gift.

My loving, curious, fun, brilliant and dedicated son believed in the essential goodness of humanity, and approached everyone with a ready smile and an open heart. He organized outings with co-workers from different labs at the Institute for Cellular Engineering, and created lifelong friendships. He wanted to find a cure for cancer. May the Pitcairn Scholars honor his life with their work.

Ian Pitcairn (IanPit2010@gmail.com) is the father of Stephen Pitcairn. Gifts can be made payable by check to Johns Hopkins University, noting Pitcairn Scholarship on the memo line, and sent to the School of Medicine Office of Development, 750 E. Pratt Street, 17th Floor, Baltimore, Maryland 21202 or online at https://secure.jhu.edu/form/HK, noting Pitcairn Scholarship in the “other” section.

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