Saturday, October 5, 2002
October 04, 2002 10:39 AM ET
By Reed Stevenson
SEATTLE (Reuters) The teen survived after a Seattle woman reading the discussion board intervened and alerted authorities.
As more people flock to the Internet in search of communities and companionship, it was inevitable that an online suicide attempt would occur, psychologists said.
After tracking down the identity of the suicidal teen, Jennifer Martini of Seattle, who works as a moderator of an online game, said she was able to call police in Highland, Indiana, where he lives, and alert them.
Pete Nelson, of the Highland Police Department, confirmed that a suicide incident involving a minor had happened, but declined to provide further details.
The incident began on Monday night with postings by "Vegas (Cats)," the teen's "handle," or screen name on a gaming discussion board for the fantasy world game Ultima that involves online role-playing gamers.
"I'm not scared anymore. Tears and sweat are joining my face which is completely soaked."
"I have said all my goodbyes...the only thing I am sorry for is the person that has to walk in and see me....cold....and dead. 16 pills down the drain........"
".........miss ya guys," he wrote.
The posting sparked a flurry of replies, similar to a crowd gathering underneath a suicidal jumper, with responses ranging from sympathy to encouragement to the Internet cries of "Jump."
"There really is no point man, no point at all," wrote one online participant., "Whatever problems you have, like all others, are only temporary."
Another wrote: "Kill yourself in the forest so you decompose. Really the way to go."
Others were more cynical.
"Obviously you want someone to talk you out of it because you are posting about this here," someone else wrote. "Don't be so selfish as to kill yourself and ruin the lives of those around you."
Another posting consisted merely of a smiley face graphic waving goodbye.
PLEA FOR HELP
"I didn't know what to do," Martini said, "I was aware that it might be a potential hoax but I decided to try and risk making a fool out of myself because someone could have died."
Other online participants also suspected a hoax, as they made their own investigations into the real identities of those involved.
But Martini said she was later contacted by a Highland police officer who found the teen still alive and able to talk. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a drug overdose.
After returning home, the young man immediately reconnected with his online community to track down his rescuer, according to Web postings.
"We've recognized that teens have a degree of intimacy of communicating over the Internet that is astounding," said Eric Trupin, a juvenile and adolescent psychology professor at the University of Washington.
"It doesn't totally surprise me that this youth was having this kind of interaction," he said.
Trupin agreed that the public Web posting was very similar to a plea for help, very much like a suicidal person standing on a bridge or high-rise building.
The online incident, and the reaction it got from the community, was reminiscent of a suicide attempt in Seattle in August of last year.
A young woman leapt off a 160-foot-high (49-meter-high) bridge after passing motorists, tangled up in the traffic snarls she created, yelled things like, "Jump, bitch, jump!"
The woman lived, but ignited remorse in a city that once prided itself on being free from big-city woes.
"People view the Internet as faceless, and it is really easy to dismiss people and dehumanize them, but there is a caring community there," Martini said.