Princeton Student Kills Self Over Rape as Child

Bill Zeller

Bill Zeller

(CBS) A bright, seemingly ambitious Princeton graduate student, Bill Zeller, was known for being a brilliant computer programmer, talented chef, devoted Red Sox fan, and loyal and caring friend, according to The Daily Princetonian. But little did his friends and colleagues know, Zeller carried a secret for most of his life that haunted him to the point of suicide.

A 4,000 word suicide note detailed Zeller's reason for attempting to take his own life last weekend: a victim of repeated, brutal childhood rape, The 27-year-old could no longer cope with the psychological scars the attacks left imprinted in his mind.

Zeller, who grew up in Middletown, Conn., passed away the night of Jan. 5 at University Medical Center Princeton as a result of injuries from his suicide attempt, which left him brain damaged an in a coma. Public Safety officers discovered his body the morning of Jan. 2, reports The Daily Princetonian.

A talented computer programmer and fifth year graduate student in Princeton's computer science dept., Zeller created interesting programs like Graph Your Inbox, which allows users to graph their Google Mail inbox over time, and MyTunes, which lets users download other people's music.

The chilling note, which Zeller posted on his website, described a horrific series of sexual assaults would end up affecting him for the rest of his life:

"My first memories as a child are of being raped, repeatedly. This has affected every aspect of my life. This darkness, which is the only way I can describe it, has followed me like a fog, but at times intensified and overwhelmed me, usually triggered by a distinct situation..."

Throughout the note, Zeller the unbearable feeling that followed him from the attacks as "the darkness".

"I wake up sweaty and furious. I'm reminded every morning of what was done to me and the control it has over my life..."

As "the darkness" consumed Zeller, he attempted to distract himself from his childhood trauma by finding solace in activities that kept him preoccupied:

"I was able to keep the darkness at bay for a few hours at a time by doing things that required intense concentration, but it would always come back. Programming appealed to me for this reason."

While the isolation, sadness and dirty feeling that controlled Zeller took his life, Carmen Vasquez, associate director of clinical services at The Rape Crisis Center told CBS News that Zeller's feelings are typical for a sexual assault victim.

"This 27-year-old male that committed suicide was describing what any normal person would experience after being brutally violated as he was," said Vasquez. "So he was not crazy [as Zeller described in his suicide note]. He was responding to an abnormal situation that made him a victim."

For males especially, there is a social stigma against being raped, making it difficult for them to get the help they need to cope.

"We see it quite often at our center that men find it harder to disclose that they were victims of rape or sexual abuse," said Vasquez.

For those who are victims of sexual abuse, there is help.

Vasquez recommends contacting RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, as the first step for somebody confidential to confide in.

Zeller's friends and family have created a page for him on 1000 Memories to commemorate his life.

"I am so grateful for his kindness despite the huge challenges he was facing," wrote Daniell Rowles on the memory page for Zeller.

A memorial will be held for Zeller on Jan. 15 at Princeton University.

  • Ann Binlot

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