You might expect the tale of a child prodigy would be an incredible one. But the story of Promethea Olympia Kyrene Pythaitha—born Jasmine Li Lysistrata, she gave herself the Greek name as she graduated from Montana State University with a math degree at age 13—is almost unimaginable. Raised by a single mom named Georgia Smith, Promethea was reading Charles Dickens before kindergarten, but when it came to math, her skills were mind-blowing. She enrolled in Stanford's distance-learning program for gifted children and completed a calculus course before age 8; program officials were so fearful the child was a hoax that a math teacher was dispatched to Montana to make sure the girl was the genuine article. The teacher's assessment: She's "at least ten times brighter than the brightest student I've had."
In a piece for the Atavist Magazine, Mike Mariani charts the oddities, tragedies, and successes of the now 26-year-old's story: the poverty; the dedicated mother who accompanied her to every class; Promethea's atypical desire to focus not on a specific field, but to move from math to physics to computer science; and, then, Thomas Kyros. The retired physicist reached out to the mother and daughter with an offer to fund a vacation for them. And then obsession set in, with Kyros calling himself "pappoulis" ("little grandfather" in Greek) and fixating on the notion that Georgia was what was keeping Promethea from accepting the money, books, and gifts he tried to send. He alerted MSU to imagined conspiracy theories about the mother and on Jan. 17, 2011, ultimately showed up at their ranch, where he fired five bullets into Georgia. Read the full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)