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Suzy, a 19 year old college student, had sought support for her depression on the Internet in January, 2003. She found a Usenet group: alt.suicide.holiday (ASH). ASH played at least some role in the death of Suzy Gonzales on March 23, 2003. Her family, best friend, and the Tallahassee police were notified of her death by time-delayed e-mails that she had prepared with the help of another member of the ASH online community. At that time, Gonzales' death was the 14th confirmed suicide associated with the online discussion group. An additional 14 suicides were listed by the group as "success stories," but cannot be verified. The number of deaths related to this group may be much higher. The site teaches you the most efficient and painless ways to kill yourself through simple downloads. You don't have to chat with anyone. Chances are pretty good, if you visited ASH, you weren't referred for professional help.
ASH is a Usenet newsgroup; it is not a website. Because ASH is a non-moderated Usenet newsgroup, it is technically impossible to ban any person from posting whatever they want. Participants who share the core values that have developed around the group are called "ashers." Newcomers are traditionally greeted with, "Welcome to ASH, sorry you're here". ASH contains a "methods file" for suicidal individuals, as well as many others, shall we say, comprehensive hints for a successful exit from a painful life. Then again, so do numerous books, such as Final Exit by Derek Humphry and The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Philip Nitschke. Numerous step by step suicide guides are also readily available to anyone who can navigate the internet. One internet site boasts: "Suicide Methods: The largest suicide manual available."
Warning: This article is written for law enforcement officers for training purposes only. It is intended to give a LEO a lesson in the harsh reality related to the internet's role in assisting suicidal subjects complete their own death. The quotes contained are from several internet sources, and are provided to allow an officer to read exactly what information is available to an adolescent or young adult. If you are in law enforcement and need information on accessing these sites for additional training, please contact Lawofficer.com Senior Editor Crawford Coates atC.Coates@Elsevier.com
"By mixing toilet cleaner with pesticide, anyone can make a cloud of deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. If the concentration is too low it won't work, however, in large inhaled doses death is pretty certain. So how much do you need to take, to make sure?" Recipes are available on the web.
In fact you can find recipes/directions for just about any method of suicide with a few clicks on the keypad. For example:
- Cyanide poisoning ("50 mg hydrogen cyanide gas, 200-300 mg cyanide salts")
- Ricin-Castor oil plant ("Dosage: death has occurred from eating 1 bean, but take more than 10")
- Heroin ("Dosage: 120 to 500 mg in non-users")
- Bullet ("Note: fill mouth with water, aim about 45 degrees from vertical, this is reliable since shockwave from water will kill instantly.")
Don't know how to acquire cyanide? No problem, chat rooms have the answers....
- Question: "Hi! Could someone post information on cyanide? Namely, how to extract it from apricot kernels, or where to locate information to that effect? Thank you!"
- Answer: "Cyanide is found in pear seeds, as well, and is very simple to extract. All you have to do is get about 1/2-1 lb. of seeds, then dry them; after that, crush them into a powder, and mix said powder into your favorite juice, some mashed potatoes, et cetera."
Sites also give helpful hints on how to buy cyanide; "Take up photography. Cyanide is a needed chemical in certain film-processing techniques...or jewelry-making, since cyanide is apparently used to clean impurities from old gold."
If cyanide poisoning is not your method of choice; there are helpful hints on slashing your wrists: "If you want to cut your wrists, cut along the blue line (vein) on the underside of your wrist, but cut deeply so that the artery underneath is exposed. Cut this lengthways with a razor or similar. The traditional hot bath does help, since it keeps the blood flowing quickly, slows down clotting, and is nice to lie back and relax in. Position yourself so that your wrists don't fall inwards against your body, blocking off blood flow."
In a "Suicide for Dummies" format you can learn the possible consequences for failing to die. For example, electrocution is pretty risky: "Don't bother with 110 or 240 volt mains, it's just not enough. Some people do get killed with household electricity, but only after several minutes. Use high tension lines; stand in bare feet on waterlogged ground (better still; put a piece of THICK copper cable into the nearest river). Works best if current path travels through your head, or through the heart. Just burns you badly otherwise. NOTE: people have survived massive high-voltage, high-current shocks with nothing but 3rd degree burns to show for it. Sometimes paralysis, limbs amputated etc."
Of course there are even suggestions for people who don't want to die alone; like joining in a suicide pact: "The Advantages and Disadvantages of Joining a Suicide Pact: A suicide pact is, generally, the agreement of a group of people who, having discovered mutual interests in terminating their lives, agree to secrecy about a particular (often future) event at which all those bound by the pact will die. For those without the willpower or interest in solitary death, the pact offers a kind of community of self-destruction which serves to both support one's goals and make more likely an attention to detail".
A pact could also include the element of homicide: "A pact can also assist in circumstances where the context must be arranged (such as a large weight tied to the ankles) and this context may be frightening for the person themselves to coordinate. Arranged (and consensual) killing of another may be easier to handle than self- termination. A single individual with the courage, for example, could bind, gag, and blindfold all others present, and set a shotgun pointed at the proper angle before each, triggered to shoot all pact members simultaneously and end their lives. Perhaps the triggering person would choose to die via the Death-By-Police method after calling 911, or be killed by the same triggering device (e.g. a bomb)." (emphasis added)
Other authors discuss hiring a skilled assassin, "I don't know which one of you peeps have money but, the hired hit man method is pretty cool. It's expensive, and you have to be careful about cops, because they often pose as hit men."
Here was an intriguing blog ad: "My name is Barry Norris. I would like to offer my services to any member of this group. With prior arrangement, I will travel to your home or location of choice and using your desired method I will kill you. I am prepared to use any agreed evil force to end your life on this earth. I promise to take you from your life and cast you away into the unknown. Your soul will leave your body at my hands. The vivid terms come with some apology but in no other way could I impress on you the nature of my services."
If you are searching for ways to make your suicide look like an accident, you are referred to "check out the newsgroups rec.arts.mystery, alt.crime, alt.true.crime or alt.true- crime, to name a few, and look for 'murder of (oneself) that is intended to look like an accident in order to avoid detection'."
So how does a person decide which method will be best for them?
Have no fear; a site will calculate your wishes related to the three most crucial criteria: lethality percentages, time to die, and expected agony based on a scale of 0-100. A nifty chart is included; a partial sample of that chart is provided in the photo gallery above.
Once you have chosen a possible plan, you are reminded there are quite a few other things to consider:
- Availability (e.g., own a car, gun?)
- Familiarity with the method (e.g., car exhaust gases)
- Technical skills needed (hanging, gassing)
- Planning necessary (buy a gun, save up drugs)
- "Courage" needed (high building, train)
- Consequences of failure (disability, publicity)
- Disfigurement after death (hanging versus overdose)
- Danger/Inconvenience to others (car crash, subway leap)
- Messiness/bloodiness (wrist cutting)
- Discovery of body (by loved ones or strangers)
- "Contamination" of nest (i.e., avoid home)
- Scope for concealing or publicizing death - shame, insurance (car crash, drowning, subway leap)
- Scope for second thoughts (swim back to shore, switch off gas)
- Chances of intervention ("fate," estranged lover)
- Symbolism (cleansing by fire)
- Masculine/feminine (e.g., guns)
- Dramatic impact (lover's leap versus overdose)
What about some other details an average despondent and suicidal individual may have forgotten? No worries there either; there are checklists. Some things the suicidal subject may need to add to a "to do list" include: take care of your pets (adoption), encrypt or delete items from your computer, stop any e-mails that may come from an online suicide group, plan your funeral (including music), pay your rent and utilities, destroy things that you don't want others to find, and leave notes. If you don't know what to write in a note; guidelines and examples are provided (including dissolving guilt or blaming others). It is also suggested that; "A message to paramedics/police/coroner can affirm that it was suicide, describe the method chosen, explain how and why you decided to commit suicide, and provide information on how to contact relatives. It might include additional instructions for example, to deliver additional messages, to other people." If you don't want anyone to find the note before your demise, sites offer ways to store them for you through numerous free remote storage servers.
Is this legal?
Aiding or abetting a suicide or an attempted suicide is a crime in all states, but prosecutions are rare. Thus, some suicide sites put in disclaimers for their readers: "Please do not pass it onto people whom you know to be actively suicidal... giving it to someone whom you know is actively considering suicide can get you into jail for up to 14 years." On February 2, 2007, the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007 was presented to Congress. This Act would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code by prohibiting "the use of any facility of interstate or foreign commerce to teach a person how to commit suicide, or to provide such person with material support or resources in committing suicide, knowing such person is likely to use such assistance to commit suicide". The act would impose a fine and/or prison term of not more than five years for violations; however if a violation results in death the prison term would be increased. On March 1st, 2007, this act was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. No further action has been taken.
As of November 1, 2008, the ASH (ashbusstop.org) site stated that it would be offline permanently. The reason for this, according to the founder, "I have reached a place where my depression is stable; I must move on and live the life that's been given back to me after 36 years of severe clinical depression." He proceeds to offer a testimonial about how his life has changed and why. Yet, the ever-caring and concerned chap ads, "However, in tribute to the 8 years of ASBS' existence, the website is available as an archive". He goes on to refer "ashers" to a "new channel" (with location) for his die hard audience-pun intended. What a guy!
I am not going to offer any comments on this one; my position should be more than obvious. However, I do question the FDA's judgment on putting a black box warning on antidepressants, related to a perceived increase in suicide ideation among adolescents and young adults, when everything listed above is available to the same age groups with a few clicks and enters.
For the LEO: when you investigate a completed suicide, there are certainly more factors to consider than the basics provided to you in the academy. Good luck. Obviously civilization as we know it needs some help.
If you are suicidal, and found this article, know that there are other resources available to you. I plead with you to review some other options. Give some thought into getting some professional help. Remember, tomorrow may look different. Please postpone any decision to end your life until you have exhausted all of your resources. Call the anonymous toll-free suicide hotline at 800-SUICIDE for starters.