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Pennsylvania police are currently investigating the death of a 25-year-old woman named Shawn Shatto, whose family alleges that members of an online suicide forum encouraged her to kill herself.
Shatto, who struggled with severe depression and anxiety, died by suicide on May 22.
Shatto’s family discovered her involvement on the “pro-choice” website by going through her phone in the aftermath of her death. Her mother, Jacqueline Bieber shared screenshots, on Facebook, of her daughter’s now-deleted posts on the forum.
The website claims to help people “discuss mental illness and suicide from the perspective of suicidal people.” It instead was providing Shatto with advice on how to die.
In the screenshots, it appeared that Shatto was detailing the way she wanted to die and expressing worry that her mother would discover her plan.
There were users who expressed doubts that her plan would work, while others wished her luck.
“Hope it goes smoothly… good luck to you,” one member replied.
Now, the police are investigating the screenshots as digital evidence.
In her last post on the website, Shatto wrote, “I’m fucking terrified.”
Bieber is now demanding that those who gave her daughter encouragement, be held accountable.
“She lost her life to darkness but she did so in a way with the HELP of darkness,” Bieber wrote on Facebook. “I never knew she was going to a place like this or that it even existed. But I wanted to bring awareness to people.”
Newberry Township Police Chief Steve Lutz told BuzzFeed News that they are working with the district attorney’s office to see if there’s any way they can hold the website and its users accountable.
“This is not free speech,” Bieber told BuzzFeed News. “This is murder. Someone needs to be held liable.”
Authorities are currently verifying the screenshots Bieber provided to see if Shatto was being coached on the website on how to die, or if there were other sources she took into account.
“She could have had multiple conversations on forums, apps, text messages on her cell phone,” Lutz said. “We can’t look narrow-mindedly at a single forum.”
Her family hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of online chats. Shatto apparently joined the website in April.
The website claims that the information on the forum is for “educational purposes only,” and has a disclaimer which reads, “This is a pro-choice forum, not a pro-suicide forum. We are not a pro-suicide site, nor do we encourage anyone here to commit suicide … We are not responsible for what you do with that information.”
Bieber is in the process of seeking legal help to get the website taken down and hopes that state and local representatives will pay attention to issues like this.
“My daughter was standing at the edge of a cliff holding her hand out for help,” Bieber said. “Instead of someone holding her back, they just pushed her over the edge.”
Shatto’s obituary states that she should be remembered for her “kind-hearted nature, gentle soul, artistic talent, passion for music, and love for anime and Harry Potter.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling from the Crisis Text Line.
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H/T BuzzFeed News
Dominic-Madori Davis is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California. She covers the internet, politics, and social issues.