Father appalled by virtual audience to son’s death

November 24, 2008

– a follow-up from the story I posted the other day about the young man who committed suicide with his webcam running, while many people watched it online…

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Sarah Larimer, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MIAMI – The father of a U.S. college student whose suicide was broadcast live over a webcam said Saturday he was appalled by the virtual audience that egged on his son and called for tougher regulation of Internet sites.

Abraham Biggs said those who watched and the website operators share some blame in his 19-year-old son’s death.

“I think they are all equally wrong,” he said.

“It’s a person’s life that we’re talking about. And as a human being, you don’t watch someone in trouble and sit back and just watch.”

Police found Abraham Biggs dead in his father’s bed Wednesday, 12 hours after he first declared on a website for bodybuilders that he planned to take his own life. He took a fatal drug overdose in front of an Internet audience. Although some viewers contacted the website to notify police, authorities did not reach his house in time.

Biggs, who has said he was at work during the episode, said he had not known about his son’s online presence.

“I think after this incident and probably other incidents that have occurred in the past, they all point to some kind of regulation is necessary,” Biggs said.

“I think it is wrong to have this happen for hours without any action being taken from the people in charge. Where were they all the time?”

The younger Biggs posted a link from the website to Justin.tv, which allows users to broadcast live with their webcams.

A computer user who claimed to have watched said after swallowing some pills, Biggs went to sleep and appeared to be breathing for a few hours while others cracked jokes. Some users told investigators they did not take him seriously because he had threatened suicide on the site before.

Biggs father said he believes the webcast was a cry for help.

“But rather than get help, he was ignored,” Biggs said.

“I would not want to see anything like that on the Internet and not try and get help for that young man. I think that’s what the average person would do.”

“Any normal person would do. I’m really appalled.”

Pembroke Pines Police Department Sgt. Bryan Davis said no new information on the case was available Saturday.

Biggs Sr. said funeral arrangements have not yet been set for his son, who he said loved helping others.

“He was a good kid. Good kid,” Biggs Sr. said.

“It’s a shame I wasn’t there to help him. It’s a big loss to me. I wish I was there to help him – since nobody else would.”

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 website could be held liable, Hill said there doesn’t seem to be much of a case for negligence.

“There could conceivably be some liability if they knew this was happening and they had some ability to intervene and didn’t take action,” said Hill, who does business litigation and has represented a number of Internet-based clients.

But “I think it would be a stretch.”

An autopsy concluded Biggs died from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepine, which his family said was prescribed for his bipolar disorder.

“Abe, i still wish this was all a joke,” a friend wrote on the teenager’s MySpace page.

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.”

It is unclear how many people watched it happen. The website would not say how many people were watching the broadcast. The site as a whole had 672,000 unique visitors in October, Nielsen said.

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.

http://www.mytelus.com/ncp_news/article.en.do?pn=home&articleID=3042645