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November 21, 2008
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) — With his webcam trained on him, a Florida teenager died in his bed of a drug overdose while others watched over the Internet, officials said Friday.
Some of those watching urged him to take more drugs while others debated whether he had taken enough to kill himself. Hours passed before someone finally notified authorities that he appeared lifeless, officials said.
The teenager was pronounced dead Wednesday afternoon in Pembroke Pines, Florida, said Wendy Crane, investigator for the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The cause of death was found to be an overdose of benzodiazepine, an antidepressant, as well as other opiate drugs used to treat depression, Crane said. CNN is not reporting the teenager’s name.
The youth’s body was found in his apartment behind a locked door, which police broke down. Police turned off the webcam and computer, Crane said. Watch CNN’s John Zarrella detail the webcam suicide.
She said he did not take anything on camera, according to footage she reviewed, but he blogged between 3 and 4 a.m. Wednesday that he had taken an overdose of drugs. He also posted a suicide note.
He was seen lying on his bed on the streaming video, posted on the Web site Justin.tv. On the site, a person can stream video from a Web camera while “viewers” chat with each other in a box next to the video, Crane said. The comments and video have since been removed from the Web site.
Crane read the comments posted during the 10 hours the youth could be seen lying on his bed.
As the teenager was lying on his bed, she said, people were typing things like, “Oh, that’s not enough to kill you.” Others, she said, were egging him on, saying things like “Go ahead and do it.” Still others thought it wasn’t real, Crane said.
About 11 a.m. Wednesday, Crane said, some viewers began to get concerned, writing things like, “He’s not moving” and “He’s not breathing.”
One contacted the site’s moderator to get the youth’s contact information, she said, and the police were notified.
The teen “has made threats in the past regarding suicide and possibly had previous attempts,” she said.
Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel said in a statement, “we regret that this has occurred and want to respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time.”
Pembroke Pines police Sgt. John Gazzano said the case is under investigation.
Broward County Chief Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said the teen may have stood a chance of surviving had someone notified authorities right away.
“If somebody had come immediately after he took tablets, then probably not all the tablets would have been absorbed. Then, therefore, they could wash his stomach and get rid of the additional tablets. Certainly, he would have had a much better chance.”
The youth’s father said he is “appalled” that people watched and did nothing.
“I wish they would have given him the assistance that he was crying out for,” the father said. “They did not respond to him. They only did long after the fact.”
He said his son, who attended Broward Community College and wanted to be a paramedic, had bipolar disorder and was being treated for depression.
The father dismissed the suggestion that people thought the video was fake. “It was not fake, was it? You don’t assume. You have to find out if it was true or false.”
Perper said the existence of a note left no doubt that the young man committed suicide.
“He left a note, which is very clear. And our examination did not reveal any evidence of trauma or any evidence of natural disease on internal examination. And we did a screen of the urine, which revealed the presence of medication, mostly antidepressant drugs,” Perper said.
“He was a good son,” he said. “I’m sorry that no one could help him when I was not around to help him myself.”
Original article no longer available
Web suicide a new case for sociologists
By FRED GRIMM fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com
They were no better than the witnesses who turned away the night Kitty Genovese was murdered.
Except, in the death of Abraham Biggs Jr., they didn’t turn away. They watched with callous indifference as the young Pembroke Pines man orchestrated a webcam suicide. They let him die.
In 1964, 38 neighbors and passersby heard the screams of Genovese, a 29-year-old woman, outside her New York City apartment building or saw a man attack her with a knife. No one called the police. They turned away. They elected not to get involved.
The attacker fled, returned 10 minutes later and hunted down the bleeding Genovese who was cowering in a hallway. He raped her, killed her and stole $49 from her corpse.
Shocked Americans decided those 38 apathetic witnesses had failed a fundamental test of social decency. The Genovese murder became a case study in human indifference.
Sociologists have a new case to ponder. On Wednesday, 19-year-old Biggs ingested a fatal excess of Xanax and Lexapro and lay down to die, still wearing his black baseball cap, as his webcam broadcast the scene. Some among his bizarre Internet audience, using the medium of instant messaging, had urged him on.
Finally, after hours watching a motionless body of a young man in the fetal position, someone out there reacted. The website administrator and the police were notified. By then, according to the Pembroke Pines police report, the body was “cold to the touch and rigor mortis had set in.”
The 12 lost hours looked like another failed test of social decency, circa the Internet age.
Maybe this particular strain of apathy stemmed from the abstract element in Internet interactions, where real human tragedy can be difficult to tell from surreal farce. Keith Whitworth, a Texas Christian University social scientist who studies the evolving ethics of social networking and the Internet, suggested that some viewers watching on their computer screens and typing out appalling text messages “could absolve themselves of guilt and say they didn’t know if this was reality or if they were participating in theater.”
And there is something about the Internet — a cold, impersonal anonymity that seems to license uncivil behavior. Whitworth said Monday that in his class that very morning, his students were sure ”that the individuals who egged Mr. Biggs on would never, face to face, have actually handed him the pills.” The text-message senders would never, in person, had urged the young man to kill himself. ”But the technology allows a moral detachment,” Whitworth said.
I’m sure of that, judging by a steady batch of vulgar, rude, insulting and sometimes threatening e-mail from strangers who I doubt would ever utter such remarks to someone’s face. The Miami Herald regularly scours scurrilous comments posted anonymously by readers of our online edition.
Whitworth, stunned by the unseemly messages in his own in-box, now forbids his own students from communicating with him via e-mail. He talked about the still-evolving sense of ethics in this new medium.
After the death of Abraham Biggs Jr., it seems the ethics still lag far behind the technology.