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Man shoots self to death in Harvard Yard

Official says victim isn’t affiliated with university

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By Sean Teehan
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2010

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CAMBRIDGE — A man fatally shot himself yesterday morning in front of a church on Harvard University’s campus, according to a school spokesman.

Harvard police received a call about 11 a.m. for a shooting outside Memorial Church, said spokesman John Longbrake.

Police arrived to discover the body of a man with a gunshot wound to the head, Longbrake said. Witnesses reported seeing the man shoot himself, he said.

It appears the man had no affiliation with Harvard, Longbrake said.

The suicide occurred during a Yom Kippur service, which was being held by a Reform minyan, a student-run Jewish community at Harvard.

Sara Piazza of Brookline, the cantor for the service, said people inside the church were unaware of what had happened.

“This is the holiest of all days,’’ she said.

“Was this an act of desperation, seeking the solace of the church? . . . Was this a statement against religion?’’

Penny Snider of Boston, who works for The World Peace Prayer Society, a nongovernmental organization, said she heard about the incident from people around Harvard Yard.

She said it was ironic to hear about such violence on the campus as she had been invited there “to say a prayer for world peace.’’

Officials from the Harvard police, the State Police, and the Cambridge Police Department were investigating, according to Longbrake.

Jessica Venezia Pastore, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, said the DA’s office does not confirm suicides but she did confirm the death.

“We did respond to a death today, and there was nothing suspicious,’’ Venezia Pastore said.

Harvard police referred questions to the university’s public relations office, and Cambridge police could not be reached for comment.

Yesterday afternoon, a tour group sat on the steps of Memorial Church, listening to guides speak about the church’s history.

It was business as usual on Harvard Yard and people were milling about, some playing Frisbee or catch around 4 p.m.

Police tape, which had cordoned off the church and its surrounding area, had been removed.

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