I CAN'T GO ON ANYMORE I JUST HUNG MYSELF
St. George resident despondent over FDNY job loss hangs himself
Friday, January 22, 2010
By JOHN ANNESE and TOM WROBLESKI
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A St. George man distraught over the inevitability of losing his job with the FDNY committed suicide in his apartment yesterday afternoon, moments after he broadcast his intention via his public Facebook.com profile.
Police confirmed the suicide at his St. Mark's Place residence yesterday afternoon, and said they found no evidence of foul play.
The dead man was identified as William Rodriguez, 52, a longtime FDNY EMS employee.
On his Facebook status, a despondent Rodriguez talks as if the walls are closing in on him. He believes he is about to be fired by the FDNY. He defends himself, but doesn't say what he's accused of. He mentions an old friend and says he should have heeded her warnings about his job. He attributes violent mood swings to the medication he takes.
He acknowledges he's "severely depressed" and concludes his post with the chilling words: "I can't go on anymore. I just hung myself."
That post sparked a flurry of panicked comments from his friends, and at 1:36 p.m. — a few minutes after the message was posted — one of them placed a call to 911.
"What the [expletive]," one friend, Christina Frank, wrote. "I don't like this!! I'm calling you now."
"Willie answer your cellphone now," read another response from Richard Fox.
"I already called 911, I'm not waiting to see if this is a joke. I hope the address on his profile is correct," Ms. Frank responded a few minutes later.
Within the hour, the reactions of Rodriguez's friends went from panic to anguish, after hearing he had been found dead.
After about two hours, the post had been removed from Rodriguez's Facebook public profile.
One source familiar with Rodriguez characterized him as someone who had struggled with bouts of depression in recent years, resulting in disciplinary problems at work.
In recent months, he had gotten into a scuffle at the FDNY's communications center in Brooklyn, leading to his transfer to another department, the source said.
He was placed on restricted duty after that, and on Wednesday, according to the source, FDNY officials gave Rodriguez two options: Resign or be fired.
As of yesterday, he hadn't made that choice, the source said.
Steve Ritea, an FDNY spokesman, characterized Rodriguez as a 22-year veteran of the department and an "active employee at the time of his death."
"It's a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the family," Ritea said. He wouldn't comment further.
Other friends discussed Rodriguez's death on their own public profiles, referring to him as a "gentle soul."
Messages to several of Rodriguez's friends went unanswered yesterday.
When contacted by a reporter, his friend Richard Fox responded, "I cannot comment except to say that Willie was a wonderful man whom I shared a friendship with for many years. I cannot speak of his recent troubles as he did not convey them to me. We are all diminished by his passing."
Another woman, Tonya Moreau, who's listed as one of Rodriguez's friends, said she didn't know him but was deeply disturbed when his suicide note appeared on her own Facebook news feed.
"It was unbelievable," she told the Advance. "You don't expect to see something like that on Facebook, being that it is such a public place. I'm deeply saddened that whatever his troubles resulted in him taking his own life. My heart and prayers are with him and his family. I'm so hurt by this even though I didn't know him."
Simon Axten, a Facebook spokesman, said the company encourages users "to report suicidal content to local authorities and suicide prevention hotlines, as well as to us."
"When we receive a report for someone who has posted suicidal content on Facebook, we immediately alert the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which then attempts to locate the person and provide help as quickly as possible," he said.
He declined to comment about the company's response to Rodriguez's note, saying that Facebook doesn't comment about its individual users.
A team of detectives worked inside Rodriguez's apartment at 82 St. Mark's Pl. until late in the afternoon. An NYPD scooter parked on the street was the only outward sign of the police investigation being conducted inside the building.
When the detectives left, an NYPD officer remained sitting in the hallway to guard the victim's open apartment door until the coroner's van arrived to remove the body around 6:30 p.m. Once the body was taken away, the officer was set to seal the apartment door.
An EMS paramedic who briefly visited the scene around 5 p.m. left carrying an orange helmet and orange canvas bag that could have been part of the victim's work gear. The paramedic declined to speak to the Advance as he left.
A neighbor who lives in a different section of the second floor and did not know the victim said police stopped her from entering the building when she returned
from grocery shopping about 2:30 p.m.
The neighbor, who did not give her name, said she was allowed to enter after waiting outside for about 20 minutes.
At first, she said, "I had no idea what happened." When she learned of her neighbor's death, she said it was "pretty startling, and a little scary."
She said she empties her trash into the compactor in the victim's portion of the building.
"It's pretty quiet on that side," she said.
She said it was the second unusual incident that had taken place in the building in the last few months, noting that one of the building guards had recently suffered a heart attack.
Two other apartments share the quiet area off the elevator with that of the victim. Two men who had entered an apartment near the victim's left the building shortly afterward without speaking to an Advance reporter.
Three other passersby who came and went during in the afternoon said they did not know the victim, and declined to comment further.
In February of last year, 30-year-old Paul Zolezzi, an aspiring model from Brooklyn, posted an apparent suicide note on his Facebook page before hanging himself in Mount Prospect Park. According to press accounts at the time, he wrote, hours before his death, that he was "born in San Francisco, became a shooting star over everywhere, and ended his life in Brooklyn… And couldn't have asked for more."
And in November 2008, a Florida teenager trained a Webcam on himself, then committed suicide by taking a fatal dose of antidepressants.
John Annese and Tom Wrobleski are news reporters for the Advance. They may be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.