Franklin James Cook

Alert Chat Partner Interrupts Online Suicide Threat

In Intervention, Media, Prevention on December 2, 2008 at 10:48 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — An article by Reporter Ryan Mills in the Naples News reports on an incident last weekend in which a Naples, Fla., teen threatened suicide on a webcam, but the local sheriff’s office intervened after a tip came to them all the way from an Internet viewer in Texas.

A call came into the Sheriff’s Office’s Communications Center from [someone] in Texas who claimed to be chatting online with a girl from the Naples area. [He] said the girl, who claimed to be 17, held a knife to her throat and arms and threatened to kill herself, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

[A detective] … was able to locate the Web site, create an account and track down the girl’s screen name … [He] found the girl on the webcam, sent her instant messages and began a private online conversation … the Sheriff’s Office reported … He was able to narrow down the location and deputies were dispatched to the house where the girl was living with her grandparents … Deputies found a knife next to a computer.

The article is cautious not to point to any conclusions about the intentions of the teen who was involved, even stating, “whether or not the Collier County case was a legitimate call for help or a bad joke by a preteen, experts say so-called cyber suicide is a growing problem in the information age” [emphasis added].

“If they do it in public, either with people physically present or online with other people watching, that’s still a call for help,” [said Kim Rodgers, a licensed social worker and director of clinical services for the East Naples-based Project HELP]. “They want to follow through with it, but there’s still some hesitation.”

It’s possible, Rodgers said, that someone would threaten suicide online as a joke or to get attention.

A local TV reporter later interviewed the detective who was involved in the online intervention. A video of the TV report highlights the need for constructive action by anyone who sees Internet activity that might warn of suicidal behavior.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to contact us,” Det. [Scott] Rapisarda says. “It could help, and in this instance it did.”

Det. Rapisarda says it’s important to contact the authorities if you see someone crying out for help on-line, because detectives can’t monitor every website. And, he adds, sometimes kids slip through the cracks.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/ThreatInterrupted.]

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