A police investigation is under way in Florida after a teenager appeared to kill himself live on the internet after being goaded by other web surfers.
The 19-year-old, from the city of Pembroke Pines, was found dead by police on Tuesday night after apparently taking an overdose. The alarm was raised by internet viewers who watched events develop online through messageboards and on the teenager's page on Justin.tv, a website that allows surfers to transmit their own TV channel.
He gave a clear indication of what he intended to do by posting a message on a bodybuilding website he frequented. Although some of the responses were sympathetic, other users told the teenager to "do it". He then proceeded to broadcast events online over the course of several hours.
As many as 185 people watched as he collapsed on camera and fell unconscious. Only after he failed to get up did anybody take any physical action, with several viewers alerting local police after being unable to contact him by phone.
The live video stream continued to run until police and emergency services arrived at the house, with footage showing them breaking down the door and inspecting the scene before filming stopped.
An investigator with the Broward County medical examiner's office, which is dealing with the case, confirmed that some web users had encouraged the teenager to harm himself, while others had tried to talk him out of ending his life. The messageboard where he left the original note has now been deleted, but not before other viewers had noted some of the harsher reponses.
"You want to kill yourself?" said one internet user reacting to the teenager's message. "Do it, do the world a favour and stop wasting our time with your mindless self-pity."
The death has caused upset in Pembroke Pines, which lies on the fringe of the Everglades and has a population of 150,000. Friends have been leaving tributes and messages on his MySpace page, paying their respects to him for being a "good person" and expressing their disbelief.
The owners of Justin.tv said they had removed the footage from the internet on being alerted to the situation. In a statement, the website's chief executive, Michael Siebel, made little further comment, saying a "tragedy ... occurred within our community today", and "we respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this challenging time."
Suicide on the internet has happened before, although it remains a rare phenomenon. For several years Japanese authorities have been dealing with the problem of group suicides organised online, while last year a British man killed himself live in front of a webcam. The man, from Telford, died live online after being urged to "get on with it" by other users in an internet chatroom he frequented. After a two-month investigation by police, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that none of the comments amounted to a criminal offence.
It is not clear whether police in Florida will charge those who goaded the teenager with assisting suicide - or even if they can be traced.
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