MIAMI – A college student committed suicide by taking a drug overdose in front of a live webcam as some computer users egged him on, others tried to talk him out of it, and another messaged “OMG” in horror when it became clear it was no joke.
Some watchers contacted the Web site to notify police, but by the time officers entered Abraham Biggs’ home – a scene also captured on the Internet – it was too late.
Biggs, a 19-year-old Broward College student who suffered from what his family said was bipolar disorder, or manic depression, lay dead on his bed in his father’s Pembroke Pines house Wednesday afternoon, the camera still running 12 hours after Biggs announced his intentions online around 3 a.m.
It was unclear how many people watched it unfold.
Biggs was not the first person to commit suicide with a webcam rolling. But the drawn-out drama – and the reaction of those watching – was seen as an extreme example of young people’s penchant for sharing intimate details about themselves over the Internet.
Biggs’ family was infuriated that no one acted sooner to save him, neither the viewers nor the Web site that hosted the live video, Justin.tv. The Web site shows a video image, with a space alongside where computer users can instantly post comments.
Only when police arrived did the Web feed stop, “so that’s 12 hours of watching,” said Rosalind Bigg, the victim’s sister. “They got hits, they got viewers, nothing happened for hours.”
She added: “It didn’t have to be.”
An autopsy concluded Biggs died from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepine, which his family said was prescribed for his bipolar disorder.
Biggs announced his plans to kill himself over a Web site for bodybuilders, authorities said. But some users told investigators they did not take him seriously because he had threatened suicide on the site before.
Some members of his virtual audience encouraged him to do it, others tried to talk him out of it, and some discussed whether he was taking a dose big enough to kill himself, said Wendy Crane, an investigator with the Broward County medical examiner’s office.
A computer user who claimed to have watched said that after swallowing some pills, Biggs went to sleep and appeared to be breathing for a few hours while others cracked jokes.
Someone notified the moderator of the bodybuilding site, who traced Biggs’ location and called police, Crane said.
As police entered the room, the audience’s reaction was filled with Internet shorthand: “OMFG,” one wrote, meaning “Oh, my … God.” Others, either not knowing what they were seeing, or not caring, wrote “lol,” which means “laughing out loud,” and “hahahah.”
An online video purportedly from Biggs’ webcam shows a gun-wielding officer entering a bedroom, where a man is lying on a bed, his face turned away from the camera. The officer begins to examine him, as the camera lens is covered. Authorities could not immediately verify the authenticity of the video, though it matched their description of what occurred.
Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said Biggs’ very public suicide was not shocking, given the way teenagers chronicle every facet of their lives on sites like Facebook and MySpace.
“If it’s not recorded or documented then it doesn’t even seem worthwhile,” she said. “For today’s generation it might seem, ‘What’s the point of doing it if everyone isn’t going to see it?’ ”
She likened Biggs’ death to other public ways of committing suicide, like jumping off a bridge.
Crane said she knows of a case in which a Florida man shot himself in the head in front of an online audience, though she didn’t know how much viewers saw. In Britain last year, a man hanged himself while chatting online.
In a statement, Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel said: “We regret that this has occurred and want to respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time.”
The Web site would not say how many people were watching the broadcast. The site as a whole had 672,000 unique visitors in October, according to Nielsen.
Miami lawyer William Hill said there is probably nothing that could be done legally to those who watched and did not act. As for whether the Web site could be held liable, Hill said there doesn’t seem to be much of a case for negligence.
Condolences poured into Biggs’ MySpace page, where the mostly unsmiling teen is seen posing in a series of pictures with various young women. On the bodybuilding Web site, Biggs used the screen name CandyJunkie. His Justin.tv alias was “feels – like – ecstacy.”
Rosalind Bigg described her brother as an outgoing person who struck up conversations with Starbucks baristas and enjoyed taking his young nieces to Chuck E. Cheese. He was health-conscious and exercised but was not a bodybuilder, she said.
“This is very, very sudden and unexpected for us,” the sister said. “It boggles the mind. We don’t understand.”
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