Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chatroom Copycats

We've heard about them in Japan. Now the media is reporting on what they are calling "the first internet suicide pact" discovered in the United Kingdom. And the method the couple used was directly copied from recent Asian pacts.

The bodies of Christopher Aston, 25, and Maria Williams, 42, were found in a car in Greenwich Peninsula Park, near the Millenium Dome in southeast London, at 7 p.m. on February 23, 2005. Aston, a Ph. D. student who grew up in the street next to Penny Lane in Liverpool, and the unemployed Williams, a former private detective and convicted fraudster who used the name Sanchez, poisoned themselves with fumes from burning barbecue charcoal,according to the report of the inquest. They died two days after making contact for the first time on a chatroom dedicated to discussions about suicide.

The Guardian's Ian Cobain reported, "Mr Aston and Ms Williams were found together in her red BMW, parked outside a branch of the TK Maxx store, a place which her family say she liked because she had used 'dodgy credit cards' to shop there."

Cobain noted that due to this suicide, "Internet companies are being urged by the Home Office to make so-called suicide websites and chatrooms more difficult to access." [Mr. Cobain, of course, shares his name with Kurt Cobain whose suicide has since spawned at least 70 copycat suicides worldwide.]

The suicides of Aston and Willians, however, are not the "first internet" suicide pact in the UK. In The Copycat Effect, I report on the 2003 deaths of Louis Gillies, 36, and Michael Gooden, 35. They met on the internet, exchanged messages, and decided to kill themselves together. Journeying to the famous "suicide cliff" of Beachy Head, they were going to jump together. Gillies did and died. Police charged Gooden with assisting the Gillies suicide, but before standing trial, he was found hanged in his home on April 22, 2003, when he failed to appear at court.

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