19-year-old kills self on live Web broadcast

MIAMI — A college student committed suicide by taking a drug overdose in front of a live Web cam as some computer users egged him on, others tried to talk him out of it and another messaged "OMG" in horror as it became clear it was no joke.

Some viewers 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, lay dead on his bed in his father's Pembroke Pines home Wednesday afternoon, the camera still running 12 hours after Biggs announced his intentions online at about 3 a.m.

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.

Only when police arrived did the Web feed stop, "so that's 12 hours of watching," said the victim's sister, Rosalind Bigg. "They got hits. They got viewers. Nothing happened for hours."

An autopsy concluded that 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 computer users told investigators that they did not take him seriously because he had threatened suicide on the site before.

A computer user who claimed to have watched the incident said that, after swallowing some pills, Biggs went to sleep and appeared to be breathing for a few hours while other users cracked jokes.

Someone notified the moderator of the bodybuilding site, who traced Biggs' location and called police, said Wendy Crane, an investigator with the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office

As police entered the room, the audience's reaction was filled with Internet shorthand: "OMG," one wrote, meaning "Oh, my God." Others, either not knowing what they were seeing or not caring, wrote "hahahah" and "lol," which means "laughing out loud."

An online video purportedly from Biggs' Web cam 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.

Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said such a public suicide is not shocking, given the way teenagers chronicle every facet of their lives on sites such as 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, such as jumping off a bridge.

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.

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 doesn't know how much viewers saw. In Britain last year, a man hanged himself while chatting online.

19-year-old kills self on live Web broadcast 11/21/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 22, 2008 11:51pm]

    

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