Advertisement
  1. News

Hundreds of people watched a Miami teen kill herself in a live stream video, but no one got her help in time

Among items posted on Facebook was a haunting text message exchange involving Naika Venant, who hanged herself at a Miami Gardens foster home while live-streaming on Facebook.
Among items posted on Facebook was a haunting text message exchange involving Naika Venant, who hanged herself at a Miami Gardens foster home while live-streaming on Facebook.
Published Jan. 26, 2017

MIAMI — A thousand people watched for nearly an hour as Naika Venant prepared to kill herself.

They kept watching for another hour as the 14-year-old dangled on her scarf from the shower door in the bathroom of her Miami Gardens foster home.

People mocked the young girl, called her names and reacted to the video with Facebook's laughing emoji, said Antonio Gethers, one of her 4,500 Facebook friends. Others posted cruel parody videos pretending to hang themselves, too.

"It was just disgusting," he said.

What the video's observers didn't do, is get help to arrive — at least until after the two-and-a-half hour broadcast had completely unspooled. By then, Naika's fate had been sealed: a series of awful mistakes led police to two incorrect addresses before they found the one where Naika had taken her life. Police found Naika in the bathroom while her foster parents slept in their beds.

While Jackson North Hospital workers tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Naika, nearly 3,000 comments amassed on the video of her suicide before it was removed.

Eric Steel, a documentary filmmaker who released a 2006 film chronicling a year of suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, likened Naika's death to a 21st Century version of the murder of Catherine "Kitty" Genovese. She was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment and no one answered her screams for help.

In his film, "The Bridge," "the most staggering footage wasn't of people jumping, it was of people who walked by, saw someone standing on the ledge, turned back, looked again, but then kept walking," Steel said. "It's that society is not more compelled to help someone, than to watch them undo themselves."

Back story: Miami teen girl in foster care hangs herself while live streaming it; police can't arrive in time because of mishaps

Naika was the first of two children in state care who died this week from suicide.

Another girl, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin, died at Nicklaus Children's Hospital on Monday. She had remained there on life support since Dec. 15, when she hanged herself — also with a scarf — at the Florida Keys Children's Shelter. At the time of Lauryn's hanging, she had been the subject of a pending child welfare investigation, and had been known to the Department of Children & Families since 2000, a DCF report said.

Naika also was the second of three suicides to be live-streamed in less than a month: On Dec. 30, 12-year-old Katelyn Nicole Davis of Cedartown, Georgia, killed herself in a 40-minute live video. The video was posted through a site called "Live.me." Family members removed the video as soon as they were alerted to it, but copies of the suicide have been posted elsewhere, including on Facebook.

On Monday, a 33-year-old aspiring actor in Los Angeles shot himself on Facebook Live, even as police tipped off by viewers raced to save him. Suicide attempts on Facebook Live have been thwarted by viewer interventions in Thailand, Hong Kong and Ohio in recent weeks.

Madelyn Gould, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, said she was most "dismayed to hear that the livestream lasted for anything more than minutes" — let alone for two hours.

The longer the video lasted, Gould said, "the more apt it is" to become viral and sensational — and to influence others to emulate Naika's actions. Psychologists fear such suicides can become contagious.

Reacting to Naika's death, Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, called on Facebook and other social media giants Wednesday to better protect children online from the dangers of unchecked social media use.

A clearly shaken Carvalho said the nation's social media platforms — including Instagram, Snapchat and others in addition to Facebook — are not doing nearly enough to ensure children cannot use such platforms to broadcast suicide attempts or online bullying.

"I am literally disgusted by what I know, and what I read," referring to a story in the Miami Herald. "As a community, and as a nation, we need to do more."

Carvalho called the suicide, which played out while many on social media watched and did nothing, "abhorrent and horrifying."

If someone had reported the Miami Gardens girl's suicidal video to Facebook as it was happening, the company's continuous monitoring team would have reviewed the video. Naika would have seen an anonymous message offering links to services and the option to contact a friend, and Facebook would likely have halted the stream. By the time Facebook deleted the video, Naika was dead.

Facebook collaborated with top U.S. suicide-prevention organizations to come up with a detailed resource page and in-app services for posts with suicidal or self-harming content. Like regular text posts, users can "report" live video to Facebook using an option on the top corner of each post, which reminds users to contact police first. It also triggers options to message the user, reach out to a mutual friend for advice, chat with a trained counselor, call the suicide lifeline or anonymously report the post.

"It gives you a chance to engage, to save a life," said Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, who called suicides on live video "troubling and concerning.''

"A lot comes down to the general public," he said. "We need to get everybody to understand that we all play a role in this, and these tools can help us."

In a statement to the Miami Herald provided by spokeswoman Christine Chen, Facebook said the company takes seriously its responsibility to keep people safe on its site.

"Our Community Standards regulate what kinds of content can be shared on Facebook," the statement said. "Our teams work around the clock to review content that is being reported by users, and we have systems in place to ensure that time-sensitive content is dealt with quickly."

Carvalho, who also has been crusading against gun violence among youth, said the social media companies need to do more.

"I do believe that, with the profit margins these sites operate under, they should be making significant investment in educational awareness and programs for youth acceptance, and they should be using their assets for cyber-bullying prevention and early detection."

The superintendent did not reserve all his ire for social media, either. He suggested Florida child welfare administrators also failed the teen, who had been in and out of foster care.

"I am deeply disturbed and angered by the suicide of this beautiful child, this gifted student from the public schools, who had a fragile existence to begin with as a foster child."

"That should have been enough reason to support the safety net system in place to care for her and protect her."