A thorough and fascinating look into someone who lurks in suicide chatrooms and convinces people to kill themselves.
Nadya Labi Reports on William Melchert-Dinkel's Suicide Chatroom Case: Newsmakers: GQ
Suicide chat rooms can save lives. The very act of logging on to a site like alt.suicide.methods (ASM) or alt.suicide.holiday (ASH) offers a potentially suicidal person the chance of finding support, redemption, or relief from the loneliness that led him there in the first place. Or logging on could be the first step a suicidal person takes to find the expertise, the courage, even the companionship, to go through with it. These chat rooms can provide a lifeline, or they can amount to a death sentence. It all depends on who's online and what they're doing there.
ASH began as a Google discussion group about why suicide rates increase over the holidays, then grew to become a regular destination; ASM bills itself, unapologetically, as "discussions about how to do yourself in." Members consider themselves pro-choice (choice being the right to suicide), and the forums host a range of people—not just those intent on committing suicide. Many do go there specifically to gather information on surefire ways to "catch the bus," or CTB, as suicide is known. But others may be recovering from a previous attempt or feeling down and looking for support among the like-minded. Still others may be there to offer a connection to those in need. Suicide is, for the most part, a solitary act; the majority of the 35,000 or so individuals who kill themselves in the United States every year are isolated and withdrawn from society. Simply accessing a world outside their own heads, as they do on ASH or ASM, might improve their chances of survival.
Mostly, members are supportive of one another, querying those who declare their intention to CTB to make sure they've explored other alternatives. But chat rooms are also places where a person can forge a connection that makes it easier to take that final ride. Some even form suicide pacts, promising to kill themselves at an appointed time, either virtually or in person. Who knows just how many follow through? But it does happen.
In Japan, where suicide has traditionally been considered an honorable act, the pacts have proven contagious. Teenage girls hook up online with like-minded partners whom they then meet in person, taking their lives together. In 2003, according to Japan's National Police Agency, online suicide pacts resulted in at least thirty-four deaths there; the number jumped to fifty-five in 2004 and ninety-one in 2005, but many experts say even those figures are underestimates. As hard as it is to fathom, not everyone who makes a pact is sincere. Disturbingly, some get off on witnessing, even encouraging, the despair of others.
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