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UT student who hacked Sarah Palin's emails during 2008 campaign dies

David Kernell was propelled into the national spotlight after he hacked then VP nominee Sarah Palin's Yahoo! email account in 2008.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The former University of Tennessee student who guessed his way into Sarah Palin's personal email account during the 2008 presidential election died last week in California.

According to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, 30-year-old David Kernell died from complications related to progressive multiple sclerosis late Friday or early Saturday last week. His family confirmed this information Thursday.

Kernell, the son of former Democratic state representative Mike Kernell, studied economics in Knoxville when he attended UT. In 2008, the then 20-year-old found his way into the national spotlight when he guessed the security answers to Palin's Yahoo! email account, changed the password to "popcorn" and then posted some emails and photos 4Chan's notorious image board /b/ under the name "Rubico."

At the time, Kernell posted to the board that he thought Palin may have conducted official business as governor of Alaska on her personal account, but said he failed to find politically damaging information about her, who was Sen. John McCain's running mate at the time of the hacking.

Kernell was indicted in by a Knoxville grand jury in Oct. 2008 and eventually found guilty of the hack and sentenced in Nov. 2010 to serve one year in federal custody in a minimum security prison in Kentucky plus three years of supervised release. Kernell served 10 months of the sentence before he was released.

►Watch: Oct. 2008 | UT student indicted in Sarah Palin email hacking

In a page-long statement regarding his death, the family said Kernell was diagnosed with MS in 2014 and participated in clinical research trials at the Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences Research Center in Los Angeles to help develop cures and treatments for other victims of MS.

"David did not let this incident define him," the family said. "He returned to UT Knoxville to complete his economics degree and further refined his programming skills by helping his local community. He first volunteered his expertise to Tennessee Voices for Children, a child advocacy non-profit group. Later, he moved to California and worked to develop facial recognition software that could identify children at risk of abuse."

Allan Bogle, host of the program Into the Deep on radio station WEVL FM 89.9, said he knew Kernell through the Memphis Chess Club and that he grew up to be a "very smart guy." Bogle said Kernell used the same "Rubico" pseudonym to post Palin's information on 4chan as he used to play Bogle in online chess.

"For a brief period of time he was the most famous chess player in the country," Bogle said of the coverage of the Palin scandal.

Rep. Jim Coley, Barlett Republican and family friend, said David was a good man, like his father and grandfather, Sam Kernell, who fought in both World War II and the Korean War.

"David picked up his good virtues from his father and his grandfather," Coley said. "I was very sorry to learn about David's death."

Services are being planned in Newport Beach, California, and in Germantown. Endowments in David’s honor are being set up at the Memphis Chess Club, Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences Research Center, and the Tennessee Voices for Children.

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