Binland Lee was a natural at marine science fieldwork, weathering its mucky demands with an indomitable smile. As a 22-year-old senior in the BU Marine Program (BUMP), Lee was part of a small, close-knit College of Arts & Sciences program that students and faculty refer to as “the BUMP family.” When she perished in a fire in Allston early Sunday morning, that family was devastated.
“She was so smart, and so nice, and had so many friends in so many different circles,” says friend and fellow BUMP student Jillian Hayward (CAS’13). “She was so passionate about marine science. She really liked everything and was always fun.”
Nine BU students lived in the house at 87 Linden St., which was destroyed in the three-alarm blaze. Two were treated at hospitals and released, and three others were away from the house at the time of the fire. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Lee was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in bio-med at Brooklyn Technical High School, a specialized school whose students have to pass a difficult admission exam. She was fascinated by animals in general and by invertebrates in particular. “We did our marine semester together and worked off a boat in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and she was bubbly and happy all the time,” recalls Hayward. A self-described devotee of “all things science,” Lee was also drawn to photography and writing and was minoring in journalism. She earned scuba diving certification in 2009 and logged 18 hours of scuba diving in Boston Harbor.
Alissa Rickborn (GRS’16), a marine science doctoral candidate, was Lee’s instructor for a fall 2011 course in marine ecology. “I remember when we began our fieldwork, it was the first time Binland had ever been on a boat,” says Rickborn. It was a windy, rainy day with rough seas, and her face “was a shade of green,” but that didn’t get in the way of her enthusiasm. “She was always positive, even at five in the morning,” Rickborn says, adding that Lee was “loved by everyone.” At a vigil in her honor on Marsh Plaza Monday evening, friends and faculty spoke of Lee as a good listener and an inspiration, someone who chose marine science out of an earnest desire to save the Earth. Also an expert bargain hunter, she adored shoes and had recently landed a deal on a pair she planned to wear to Commencement. They were blue like the ocean, with scales like a fish.
For a 2012 College of Communication class, Lee completed a multimedia project, referring to herself as an “ocean reporter,” accompanied by a shot of her in snorkel gear, mask pushed to her forehead, winking playfully at the camera. In addition to entries about her research at Stellwagen, the BU Marine Lab, and Wee Wee Caye Marine Lab in Belize, Lee included in the online portfolio profiles, photos, and interactive multimedia components that she shot and wrote. In one video, she asks BU students to debate whether a mild winter was a sign of global warming, and in another she interviews two members of a student band who wrote a song to honor the three BU students killed in a car accident last spring while studying abroad in New Zealand.
At the time, Lee told her teacher, Michelle Johnson, a COM associate professor of journalism, that she took her class to better present marine science through multimedia. “I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t a journalism student, because she seemed so engaged,” says Johnson, describing her student as soft-spoken and smart. “She always participated in class discussions, and she was very interested in photography and photojournalism.”
Lee liked to throw theme parties, says Hayward, recalling a big Christmas party—a spirit animal party. “I think she was a wolf,” Hayward says. Her friend also loved to dress up for Halloween.
Lee was one of a group of marine science students who accompanied John Finnerty, a CAS associate professor of biology and BUMP director, on a 10-day research trip to Belize in 2011. He remembers being struck by her “intelligence, determination, and infectious smile” in often challenging conditions. “Binland, like so many BU students I have known, has been a source of optimism for the future,” Finnerty says.
From 2011 to 2012, Lee served on the board of the BU Marine Science Association, helping plan fundraisers and the annual Lobster Ball, a Boston Harbor cruise. This year’s cruise, scheduled for May 2, will go on as planned, says Finnerty, because she would have wanted that. He says the event will serve as a tribute to Lee and her cherished role in the BUMP family.
Counseling is available to all members of the BU community through the Dean of Students Office, from Marsh Chapel chaplains, at Student Health Services (SHS), and at the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP). The crisis counselors can be reached through SARP 24/7 at 617-353-7277 for immediate response and assistance. The SHS Behavioral Medicine staff can be reached at 617-353-3569 to contact a counselor or schedule an appointment. University chaplains can be reached at 617-353-3560. The Faculty & Staff Assistance Office, which can be reached at 617-353-5381, is available to provide confidential counseling to faculty and staff and their families.
There will be a memorial service for Binland Lee on Friday, May 3, at 6 p.m. at the New York Aquarium Coney Island Mural, near 602 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. The family asks that friends bring flowers, candles and memories.
Leslie Friday and Amy Laskowski contributed to this story.