Suicide, by its very nature, is generally a solitary act undertaken somewhere away from prying eyes. It is a tragic end to an individual’s life but when that end has been watched, helped with and videotaped by another who “wanted to see what it was like to watch somebody die”, and involves a teenager, what was a suicide turns into something else entirely.
On 6 May 2017, the body of a young girl was found hanging from a tree in a spot near Maple Lake in Payson Canyon, Utah. Believed to be just 16-years-old, there were two plastic bags and a can of air duster cleaner at her feet. Inside one bag the police found a handwritten note giving the girl’s name and instructions to watch a video recording on her mobile phone which was also in the bag.
To the horror of police when they turned on the phone they found they were watching this young girl’s suicide from start to finish. What’s more, the man who was filming it all stood by and did absolutely nothing to intervene and at least try to prevent this teenager’s death.
The Huffington Post reports that the video footage clearly shows the teenager “with a noose around her neck while standing on a rock”. She inhales the fumes from the can of air duster and passes out; slipping off the rock she was standing on, tightening the noose around her neck. The chilling footage continues for just over 10 minutes as this young girl’s life drains away. The individual filming can be seen checking for a pulse before switching off the camera.
The police affidavit for the case shows that in the plastic bags along with the note and the mobile phone was a till receipt for the rope the teenager used to hang herself. Purchased using a credit card, the cardholder’s name is clearly visible; Tyerell Przybycien. While police were processing the scene, 18-year-old Przybycien arrived and boldly approached police officers to tell them it was him who recorded the girl’s death.
While full details are yet to emerge, it appears Tyerell Przybycien drove the girl to the spot where she took her own life and actively participated in her death. He told police that “he too was suicidal and wanted to watch the victim die to see if it was something he could go through with himself”. Tyerell Przybycien was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and murder.
In such an unusual case it is difficult to know whether charges of murder will go ahead for Tyerell Przybycien. While he had aided this teenager in buying the equipment she used, driving her to the secluded spot and stood by filming her actions, he did not take her life with his own hands. However, it would not be the first case to go ahead on the basis of ‘coercion’ to commit suicide.
In 2014, 17-year-old Michelle Carter sent a series of text messages to her boyfriend 18-year-old Conrad Roy III encouraging him to kill himself. Conrad Roy was found dead in his truck in Fairhaven near Mattapoisett in July of 2014 with a gasoline-operated water pump in the backseat.
In the hours before his death, while he was sitting in his truck, he was communicating via text message with his girlfriend who was actively encouraging him to take his own life. When Conrad expressed fear at going ahead and wanted to get out of the truck, Carter told him to ‘get back in’ and ‘just do it’.
After the Courts decided that she ‘engaged in a systematic campaign of coercion’, Michelle Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter and she is currently awaiting trial. The transcripts of Carter’s messages to Conrad Roy are harrowing to read and even harder to understand how a young girl could be so cruel and heartless to a vulnerable young man she was supposed to be in a relationship with, albeit a largely online one.
“In sum, we conclude that there was probable cause to show that the coercive quality of the defendant’s verbal conduct overwhelmed whatever willpower the eighteen year old victim had to cope with his depression, and that but for the defendant’s admonishments, pressure, and instructions, the victim would not have gotten back into the truck and poisoned himself to death.”
Michelle Carter’s defence team has argued that she did not physically assist Conrad Roy to commit suicide and should not be facing charges of manslaughter. Carter herself has reportedly said, “It’s all my fault because I could have stopped him but I f—en didn’t and all I had to say was I love you and don’t do this one more time and he’d still be here.” Although this was to a friend rather than in any legal interview.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of both these cases will be but what they highlight is the vulnerability of teenagers to pressure from their peers, and although their actions seem incomprehensible, teenagers do not tend to think through their behaviour and the potential consequences. The clear message taken from these cases is that the deaths of these two teens are tragedies which could have so easily been avoided.