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February 15, 2014 2:14 AM   Subscribe

"I thought you were sleeping. It seems silly now, but you must understand, when one sees a person slumped over inside a parked car, the most reasonable conclusion is rarely that the person slumped over is dead. It was the lights from the dashboard that caught my eye." – This Crappy Obituary – For the Woman I Found Dead in the Starbucks Parking Lot. You know you should never read the comments, but read the comments.
posted by MartinWisse (95 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh wow. That's heartbreaking.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:19 AM on February 15


This is good, as good as such a thing can be.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:38 AM on February 15


Definitely read the comments - that's where the heart of this story lives.
posted by kokaku at 2:47 AM on February 15 [19 favorites]


I’m curious, though. You came up with this obituary “based on what you observed of her”; may I ask, what were your observations that led you to conclude the kind of person she was?

Yeah, writers can do that - it's as if they have a license of some sort.
posted by mattoxic at 3:31 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


The comments made me cry in a way I haven't cried the last decade.
I feel so sorry for the family. My condolences to them all.
posted by BonusMcGregor at 3:42 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I stopped reading the comments after read the one from her father. Losing a child to death is a soul shattering event, made even worse when the circumstances of the death don't allow the parent to be a participant, to assure that kindness and compassion and love are part of the process, and then having to live with what you imagine that event was like without those factors.

No, the author wasn't there at the moment of death, but his presence was part of the process none-the-less. And he was kind and compassionate, and he was able to communicate to the parents that someone other than they, someone that didn't even know their daughter, saw the attributes, even in death, that so many people in the comments confirmed. I believe that his act to going to the window and then, later, publishing his writing, will embed, into the hearts of those that loved her, a small piece of kindness and compassion to soften the memories of that event.

So, good on him for being strong enough to write that, skilled enough to write it well, and brave enough to publish it..

This from someone who's lost a child and once found the body of a stranger.
posted by HuronBob at 4:16 AM on February 15 [80 favorites]


Farewell, Starbucks Parking Lot Woman. It's a shame we had to meet this way. I wish you could have met your end better; hell, I wish we could have saved you. Wherever you go now, I hope it's better than here.
posted by JHarris at 5:06 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Powerful. I've never heard of Prolonged QT syndrome before - sobering and scary to think about several siblings in one family dying mysteriously at a young age before someone figures out what is going on.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:17 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Egads, as the father of a young woman, I cannot imagine. This is not the natural order of things. The old are supposed to fade away into irrelevance and leave the world to people Like Sabrina.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:28 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


simonkriel on January 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm said:
Just wanted her to wake up

Reply ↓

Lucas J. Draeger
on January 22, 2014 at 11:01 pm said:
You and me both.

Reply ↓


.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:40 AM on February 15


.

The comment section seems to be from some weird alternate universe where the Internet is a much different thing than it is here. In a very good way.
posted by localroger at 5:47 AM on February 15 [49 favorites]


Wow. I have to say, it wasn't until the comments that I started believing the whole thing was real. I guess it's the cynic in me. What a small, amazing thing this writer did for this family.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:50 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Just as a general tip if you see someone who appears to be napping in a running car you should always knock on the window. Depending on the wind direction and wind speed they could be potential victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. You might save a life.
posted by srboisvert at 5:51 AM on February 15 [26 favorites]


.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:54 AM on February 15


Although it's so sad this makes me feel better about life today. Thank you MartinWisse.
posted by communicator at 6:02 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


.

Amazing. Not sure if I missed it elsewhere in the comments but also amazing that her family member found this blog randomly! So glad though this made it to the right people
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:06 AM on February 15


Very sad, yet the comments made it wonderful.

Long QT is a thing in my family, and we don't yet know how it has affected our longevity. Where we're from has one of the shorter average lifespans in Europe anyway. It's a conductive disorder of the heart, where the valves don't quite get the signal to close fast enough to respond to demand. I have had so many ECGs that I have discernible bald patches where the sensors go. Cardiologists mutter quietly and reach for their rulers when they see my charts.

It's not very common, and it has levels of severity from my own mild level to the one that has devastated this young woman's family. Stimulants can be a trigger: some OTC medicines are a sparrow fluttering in my ribcage, a cup of coffee a jackhammer. Some people are nervous of getting their heart checked, sometimes because an ECG on your medical records is a risk flag to insurers. It's better to know, though.
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] at 6:08 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Is there any other source describing this event? I can't seem to find an obituary anywhere online, and the woman's name, "sabrina collins", is a fictional character on a tv show.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:11 AM on February 15


sometimes because an ECG on your medical records is a risk flag to insurers.

And this is exactly why the ACA forbids the consideration of pre-existing conditions.
posted by localroger at 6:21 AM on February 15 [25 favorites]


"Her name was Sabrina."
posted by thinkpiece at 6:22 AM on February 15


Well, now I'll be following this even more closely because imagine writing this and all the comments for Tumblr fame and beyond and then having it crash around your ears because you're too young to remember Kaycee Nicole and too discerning to watch 'Catfish'.

If it's true then he's a good man and a good writer.
posted by h00py at 6:26 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


One of my neighbors fell asleep in his truck while it was running....I did wake him up.
It was a little nerve wracking because I have walked in on a dead person before and I don't want to repeat the experience.

This piece was heartbreaking but beautiful.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:27 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


It's true, you can see the death certificate registered at what I think is Tacoma, WA's "News Tribune." Sabrina Collins, age 21. Go here and type her name in the search form.
posted by feets at 6:28 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


h00py, I really want to believe it's real, although I don't want to wish a poor girl dead, you know? Seven years ago today, in fact, my cousin's life was saved by a passerby who saw his car hit a patch of ice and fall into the Mill River in Connecticut. There are good people out there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:28 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


jenkinsEar: I wondered that, too. Sort of ashamed to admit my initial touch of skepticism. But a death certificate for Sabrina Collins, 21, was issued on January 9 in Puyallup, WA.
posted by majorsteel at 6:30 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I can't seem to find an obituary anywhere online, and the woman's name, "sabrina collins", is a fictional character on a tv show.
I couldn't either, on a cursory search, but the relatives mentioned that she was a high school wrestler, and there was a girl with that name who wrestled for a suburban Seattle high school and graduated in 2010. So if she wasn't the woman in the car, then someone is playing an awfully sick joke on an actual person.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:33 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


good deal- the coincidence of all of her relatives finding the post raised my antennae.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:33 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Years ago, my grandmother looked out her front window and saw what appeared to be her neighbour sitting motionless in the car he had for sale on his front lawn. She called his house and didn't get an answer, waited a little while and when she saw that he still hadn't moved (she wasn't able to get down the steps by herself to check) she called 911. Boy was she embarrassed when the paramedics told her it was a scarecrow he'd put in the car for Halloween.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:35 AM on February 15 [10 favorites]


Set off my paranoid spidey senses too fwiw.
posted by bleep-blop at 6:39 AM on February 15


Seeing her name in the list of deaths, so many decades younger than anyone else, is utterly heartbreaking. I don't envy him this experience and I feel so much for her family. So very, very sad.
posted by h00py at 6:39 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


It does set off some skeptic alarms, but as to "the coincidence of all of her relatives finding the post" - the comments do mention that one of the aunts posted it (I assume to something like Facebook). That type of thing would be shared heavily (public or privately) among other family members / friends.
posted by kellygrape at 6:44 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


The girl in the Starbucks parking lot was only 21. And you’re right, Lucas, she will be missed

So heartbreaking to think she died alone, and so young.

Thanks for posting this. I know now if I'm ever in a position to wonder if a stranger is ok I will take the time to check, because that could also be someone's child, partner, colleague, friend.


.
posted by billiebee at 6:46 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


So she was known to have a hereditary heart condition from which her brother had died. She collapsed at work, was taken to the hospital, and they discharged her with nothing more than a referral to a neurologist?

That just seems incredibly irresponsible.
posted by my favorite orange at 6:48 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


That's life (and death).
posted by h00py at 6:49 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much for posting, MartinWisse.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:59 AM on February 15


So she was known to have a hereditary heart condition from which her brother had died.
I didn't read it that way. I think that her brother's sudden death was never explained, and now that she has also died suddenly, people are concluding that they both might have died from a hereditary heart condition. It sounds like the hospital thought the her collapse was neurological, not cardiac, and maybe they didn't make the leap to see it as related to her brother's death. In retrospect that seems really dumb, but medical practitioners aren't making decisions with the benefit of hindsight.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:02 AM on February 15 [13 favorites]


the coincidence of all of her relatives finding the post raised my antennae

It only takes one relative to find the post. The rest are not independent events.

Also:

.
posted by grouse at 7:11 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


I am about to leave my fortress of solitude for the morning, and this will help me to remember that everyone I encounter out there today is an actual human being, who loves and hopes and is going to die.
posted by thelonius at 7:11 AM on February 15 [19 favorites]


A long time ago a friend of mine fell asleep in his old car and left the engine running and the heater and radio on.

He was drunk and stoned and needed to pull over and sleep. The dash caught fire and he died. Very sad.
posted by mattoxic at 7:14 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


.

Heartbreaking, but I'm glad that a small kindness helped give her family some comfort. Also, what thelonious said.
posted by arcticseal at 7:22 AM on February 15


Cried like a baby.

.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:29 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Set off my paranoid spidey senses too fwiw.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where so much of what's presented as an organic series of events turns out to actually be manipulated or flat-out manufactured-- generally with the goal of selling something or someone.

Many of us are developing what almost seems like a scab of skepticism. We're right to have it; there are too many forces trying to manipulate our emotions for their own ends. But I feel a little robbed that I read this and couldn't fully invest the emotion it deserved until people confirmed the basic facts.

Now I'm in a weird position of feeling relieved that it actually happened while dearly wishing that it didn't. How odd.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:34 AM on February 15 [16 favorites]


No trolls, no conspiracy theories, no blaming Obamacare deathpanels, no slurs, no abuse of grammar, no flaming.

This is not the Internet I know.
posted by dr_dank at 7:41 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Nobody is knocking on her window. How can I knock on her window, when it’s been firmly established by dozens of people, that we are NOT knocking on that window today? This whole knocking on the window idea is clearly insane! NOBODY is knocking on that damn window!
This is a really good description of this phenomenon. I try to have awareness for when I feel like I might be making a decision not to do something that needs to be done when the reason given is "It's a thing the group has decided not to do" and the evidence for that is "No one else has already done it".
posted by bleep at 7:42 AM on February 15 [16 favorites]


A few years ago I saw a man sawing a bike chain off a bicycle at about 9am outside a government building where dozens if not hundreds of people were walking past him. To me, he appeared to be very clearly stealing the bike. Since it was a government building there were cops milling around inside, which made reporting it extremely easy. I walked over to one of them and told him to check it out. I saw the cop later and he confirmed that the guy was in fact stealing the bike and also had a warrant out for his arrest on other charges. He thanked me for being the only person to report it.

I ended up speaking to a bunch of coworkers who also saw the guy, yet had done nothing. They had convinced themselves that either 1) someone else must have reported him already, or 2) it was really his bicycle and had simply lost the key or whatever. I understand the diffusion of responsibility from studying the Kitty Genovese case in psychology 101, but I was perplexed by the fact that so many people convinced themselves of a narrative that was the more "positive" story despite being, to me, more convoluted and unlikely than the more obvious likelihood; basically, ignoring Occam's Razor. I feel like this story is the same: people either believed that someone must have already reported her, or they convinced themselves she must simply be asleep and that they shouldn't bother her, despite the fact that people do not generally sleep outside a Starbucks unless something is wrong.
posted by gatorae at 8:19 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


# this is exactly why the ACA forbids the consideration of pre-existing conditions

I've had insurers in the UK and Canada do this. So it's not just the US.
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] at 8:27 AM on February 15


I’m curious, though. You came up with this obituary “based on what you observed of her”; may I ask, what were your observations that led you to conclude the kind of person she was?

Yeah, writers can do that - it's as if they have a license of some sort.
Also, the Forer effect.
posted by BurntHombre at 8:35 AM on February 15


gatorae, I think people just don't feel its their responsibility to investigate and report problems that affect other people. I'm an inveterate reporter of minor issues (unsafe road/sidewalk conditions, broken lighting, graffiti). Sometimes these issues have persisted for months, but after I report them they are fixed within days. My conclusion is that no one else bothered. I think this applies whether it's a broken streetlight or suspicious activity.

It's easy to think that people are just lazy, but this is probably a non-rational activity on my part. It helps the community but it probably helps me less than the time I spend on it. When you get the emergency services involved, you also get the added potential of it backfiring on you. See this recent blog post, "Good Samaritan Backfire," about someone who reported a traffic collision and then found themselves arrested and put in solitary confinement. Or the many articles suggesting the smartest thing to do in the U.S. is not talk to the police ever.
posted by grouse at 8:43 AM on February 15 [11 favorites]


A woman who was at my high school at roughly the same time became a mountain climber years later, and died after falling while descending, following a successful summit. She was belaying down over a cliff, and for various reasons fell off the end of the rope.

So news of her death gets passed around by email amongst us, and by chance I find a trip report from a mountain climber on a climbing board by a man who saw her death, and tried to prevent it. She didn't fall immediately. She was supposed to belay down, stop, and swing in to the cliff face to attach. But her belaying device was a mismatch for the rope, and she hadn't taken the kind of basic precautions (like a prusik) that experienced climbers often skip, so she could slow but not stop herself. It wasn't her rope, and she hadn't placed it, so didn't notice the mismatch either. There are things you can when you're in that situation (like wrap the rope about your leg), but in her panic she wasn't doing them. The man saw her desperately trying to stop herself, and quickly anchored his own rope to get down to her and assist. He actually got down as far as she was, and was in the middle of securing himself so he could grab her, when she slipped off the (untied) end of the rope.

So his trip report became a tearful enumeration of the basic mistakes she'd made as an experienced climber, and a plea to not ignore basic safety measures. And after a couple pages of nodding responses, the woman's father (also a climber) showed up in the thread to thank the man for trying to save his daughter, for allowing him to spend a few more minutes with her, and to repeat the man's plea not to allow carelessness and overconfidence to take one's life. And it's like.... pssshhshhwhoa, all the air just got sucked out of thread at everyone's awe at this incredibly potent moment, and realization that those two coming together like this was probably the most amazingly healing thing that could happen for those two.
posted by fatbird at 8:52 AM on February 15 [35 favorites]


FWIW I had a neighbor die, too young, of a sudden heart arrhythmia syndrome, something like Long QT (though I'm not 100% certain if it was Long QT or some other variant of SADS). She and her siblings had 'fainted' many times and no doctor had been able to figure out the cause.

There is an article about the creation of the SADS Foundation here--it talks about what happened to my neighbor and her family--and a link to the SADS Foundation web page here.

They have some pretty effective treatments for the syndrome now--beta blockers, among other things. I'm pretty sure they have saved the life of at least one of my neighbor's sons, because he was already having 'fainting' episodes when I knew him forty years ago. With the treatment, he's already lived twenty years longer than his mother did, and still going strong . . .
posted by flug at 8:55 AM on February 15


bleep, I came here to post that same bit -- what an eloquent statement of that phenomenon, and what an awesome thing that he was able to break the pact.
posted by allthinky at 9:02 AM on February 15


I've barely even made it into the comments and I'm already onions everywhere.

But, a couple other people have said this, what bugged me about it was the automatic-because-Internet thought that the coincidence seemed a bit too pat. So reading the comments here of people who've already gotten far enough to say there's proof and this is actually real is awesome, because now I know I'm reading a true story--that, agreed, I wish wasn't.

I find it interesting that we're all broadcasting all day to other humans in a million ways, basically saying "look at me! look at me!", but the times when we really should be looking, we feel like we shouldn't.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:24 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I hate to say it, but there's really no proof that this really happened as described. At best, there is reliable evidence that a 21-year-old named Sabrina Collins from Puyallup, WA died a few days before this blog post. The rest could have been faked, but I think it's unlikely. If nothing else, it would generate a nasty firestorm if the real family found out. As long as no one is asking for money or anything though it seems not worth investigating further.
posted by grouse at 9:36 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


jenkinsEar: I wondered that, too. Sort of ashamed to admit my initial touch of skepticism. But a death certificate for Sabrina Collins, 21, was issued on January 9 in Puyallup, WA.

This woman did pass and I'm sorry to hear that and my thoughts go out to the family.

But the fact that there was a death certificate doesn't make it true. If you really wanted to make it real, you'd work off a known death. It was written 6 days after the woman's death. So he could have picked a death certificate out.

At least one of the commenters is a fake. She claims to be the deceased's mother, while a man two comments above says the woman's mother died of cancer before the daughter was born.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:38 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Grouse beat me to the punch. Was checking out the dates relative to a football game referenced in the original post.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:40 AM on February 15


Thank you very much for your words do you think you could call me one of these days soon or maybe meet up and talk over coffee? i can’t even explain how bad i want answers to what happened and you are my only real connection to what happened at the end. whatever you decide just know that i am forever grateful to the one man that went to check…

This (from the fiance) was what killed me, and stopped me from reading any further to contributions from the family.

And for those of you who think it's faked, this is his (presumed) Facebook profile (he urged the author to use to contact him)...which includes him with photos of a woman he labels as Sabrina, with the most recent photo posted of her (January) noting her death. So if it's a fake, it's an elaborate one.

And she is indeed beautiful.
posted by blue suede stockings at 9:47 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I am so glad her family could find this.
posted by maryr at 9:50 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


"This is a really good description of this phenomenon. I try to have awareness for when I feel like I might be making a decision not to do something that needs to be done when the reason given is 'It's a thing the group has decided not to do' and the evidence for that is 'No one else has already done it'."

Besides situations like this and those involving the witnessing of crimes, this is a big problem in disaster situations. Contrary to common belief, people aren't that prone to mass panic and, instead, often underreact to impending danger. They don't evacuate buildings that are on fire, for example.

And it's because of this. People in groups look to others for cues on how to behave and to respond to something unusual. Thus, often no one does anything until the first person finally does (often after dithering like this writer describes) and then everyone follows that person's lead.

I don't want to say that this instinct is always counterproductive, it almost certainly isn't. But people should try to consider that they're probably representative in many respects and that if they are thinking that they've noticed something worrying and that they feel that something may be done, but are hampered by others' non-reaction, it's quite likely that many of those others are having the same thoughts. They won't think you're weird or crazy for acting, they'll probably be relieved that you did.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:50 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Ironmouth, maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anyone claiming to be her mother; only her father.
posted by allthinky at 9:51 AM on February 15


There was a woman claiming to be the mother of her fiance and another claiming to be the mother of a friend/classmate.
posted by maryr at 9:56 AM on February 15


(The person claiming to be) her boyfriend is Facebook friends with Sabrina Collins's father, whose Facebook page is full of discussions of funeral arrangements and expressions of condolences from friends and relatives, at least one of whom mentions reading the blog post from the man who found her. Neither Facebook page was created recently, and they both have a lot of friends. I really understand the inclination to be suspicious, but I think this one is probably legit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:06 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Even if it did turn out to be fake, I don't understand what difference it makes. It's fine to be get feelings from reading a well-written story, whether fictional or not. It doesn't make you a dupe or a rube or anything.
posted by bleep at 10:13 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Even if it did turn out to be fake, I don't understand what difference it makes.

That's okay, because I do. There is a difference in quality between the grieving we feel for fictional characters and that we feel for actual people.

It's part of the encroachment of manipulative fakeness into our lives, by people who see us as effectively brains in jars being fed sensory data by our internet connections. I would find it unconscionable, and I would hate the people responsible for such a thing. But this is a derail, especially since the event seems to have happened as described, so for more griping from me about fakeness I would direct the interested reader to my comments from the last horse_ebooks thread, because they still apply.
posted by JHarris at 10:19 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I think the difference between reading fiction and having emotions, and reading something like this and having emotions, is that with the fiction, you're not actively being lied to. You know that the fiction didn't actually happen. With something like this, an actual person, a human being, died. Finding out after the fact that someone was playing a prank or just generally being a big shitbag puts a very different skew on the situation. For me, anyway.
posted by Solomon at 10:33 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I've had insurers in the UK and Canada do this. So it's not just the US.
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] at 10:27 AM on February 15 [+] [!]


Only for visitor's insurance or extra coverage.

Both those countries will treat heart conditions under their public health care if you are an established resident.
posted by srboisvert at 11:03 AM on February 15


.

Well written, touching, and a fitting homily to another human being. It's acts like Lucas Draeger's that remind us that we're all connected, in ways that are so far, far more significant than we imagine - all the way to the point of being One.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:21 AM on February 15


The cause of death for Sabrina and her brother Stephen is unknown. The coroner’s autopsy found no abnormalities in either of my children. 21 years old. So sad.



30+ years ago one summer, when I was working horses long distance twice a day, I rode out into the desert and paused at the top of a bluff to give the horse a breather. I noticed a shiny new pickup parked down below.

People go out to the desert to walk their dog, shoot targets or whistle pigs, smoke dope, look at the sunset--I didn't think twice about it. Next morning, it was still there.
Odd.

That evening the trail took me below the bluff, and the truck was still there, all dusty. I rode over within ten feet, and the smell made me wish I hadn't. Went upwind to look in the bed hoping it was a dead dog or calf, but it was man, shot in the head, lying on the seat. High summer in the desert isn't kind to a corpse. Rode home, reported it--turned out to be a murder victim. Something I never want to see again. If there's a vehicle left out in the desert, I'll call it in, but I never ride over and look in the window.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:27 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I understand the skepticism. I just wanted to put it out there that it's all real. It happened. An ex of mine that I'm still in touch with is a good friend and co-worker of Jon's and knew/knows them both. He says yes, the writer found Sabrina in her car. And that Jon was madly in love with Sabrina. Talked about her constantly. The story is so very heartbreaking.
posted by weeyin at 12:27 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


.

I didn't get to most of the comments, but how did they know the person in the car was Sabrina?
posted by divabat at 12:30 PM on February 15


The "group think" thing is interesting. I'm certainly guilty of it (not being a person who likes to make waves in public) but I've always found it has made me feel worse, not better, about myself after recognizing that's what drove my decision. "Shame" is so crippling, and that's what going against the group is: it's a source of shame to not agree with, and act against, what your temporary tribe has "decided" is the "right thing".

I do think the phenomenon is more complicated than just "do what others are doing."

Part of it is we live in a world which is actively hostile to accommodating "hassle." Most of us have 1,000 things to do at any one time, and stopping to help, or report something, may be a time sink of unknown proportions. That's selfish and petty, of course, but if your reality is that the boss at your shitty "at will" job will say "I don't care if you yourself were dead, you were supposed to be here at 9AM--we're going to have to let you go" you think not twice but ten times about getting involved in anything that puts that job in jeopardy.

And it's not just jobs--sometimes it's something like picking a kid up from daycare or similar time-dependent tasks have huge penalties. Getting involved means taking time, and very few of us have fungible time these days.

Another bit of it is we live in a society where there's the chance our involvement will lead to a violent outcome. Not so much young women sleeping in parked cars, perhaps, but speaking up to a group of asshole young men who are abusing someone...that's potentially life-changing. If you don't have insurance and get stomped trying to help someone, the hospital bills could easily bankrupt you, and there's your own life and dreams extinguished.

(Another reason why universal health care and a guaranteed income would make our society a better place for everyone.)
posted by maxwelton at 12:31 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I understand the skepticism. I just wanted to put it out there that it's all real.

To be honest, when I found the story and read the comments it never for one second occured to me that it could be fake.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:14 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Knowing what I know about the uniformed storm troopers that might show up in response, ain't no way I would ever approach that car, not even if the corpse was leaning on the horn.
posted by telstar at 2:07 PM on February 15


There doesn't seem to be a story on MeFi anymore that doesn't get diverted into a discussion of whether it's real or it's fake - all by people who know nothing about the story itself but sure know how to speculate.

Why is this happening so often now? What is to be done about it?
posted by aryma at 3:51 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


There doesn't seem to be a story on MeFi anymore that doesn't get diverted into a discussion of whether it's real or it's fake

Metafilter has a unique sensitivity to this duality, primarily because of the Kaycee Nicole saga.
posted by pjern at 4:24 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Wow. I can see, then, how this got started, but I still wish it could be reined in a bit.
posted by aryma at 4:44 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


It's just too bad that, after what happened to her younger brother, she didn't take the advice of the hospital and see that neurologist before going shopping.
posted by Twang at 5:16 PM on February 15


Wow, that seems a little insensitive. The comments from her family seem to suggest that the medical issue may have been with her heart, so seeing the neurologist (can you even get immediate neurologist appointments?) wouldn't necessarily have helped her.
posted by billiebee at 5:20 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


To be honest, when I found the story and read the comments it never for one second occured to me that it could be fake.

Sometimes, I'm amazed that any of it isn't fake. It's just too easy to do, and too many people will spread things they've heard uncritically. I know I've done that (the uncritical forwarding) before. When it comes to political tweets and such there's already been ample demonstration of how far something can travel among people unprepared to ask questions about it, legions willing to repeat whatever "true" thing Limbaugh or Drudge has told them. The New York Post and Daily Mail are tremendously popular websites, even though neither has a particularly strong attachment to truth. And with the value of popular Twitter and Tumblr accounts going up and no real check on the veracity of these stories, it's a case where the financial incentive is much higher than the risk. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is heading.

If someone sees a problem with this observation then by all means, pipe up! I would love to be wrong here.
posted by JHarris at 5:39 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The disturbing thing to me is how many of the comments praise the writer for stopping to check things out as if it is abnormal to pay attention to your surroundings and notice things that are not quite right.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:34 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Just going to say:
If you're going to take a skeptic's approach you have to be willing to put in the work to have reason for it. Click on the names of the people that said they knew the person or the family on the webpage and bam, Facebook pages of actual people. You don't need the testimony of another mefite to validate a thing. It's lazy in a way that can make a person seem callous in cases like this.

The story is a good reminder to try and do something more when you know you can. Avoid that mentality of following the actions of others, but without jumping to sudden drastic conclusions. I know I spend too much time with my blinders on, social or otherwise. The next time I notice I've kept them on and it gives me pause, I'll try and act on it best I can. It could mean someone's life.

Maybe all those people who we got to share a bit of wonder and grief with wouldn't have that to share. They'd have someone they loved still in their lives.

I'm glad those people got closure in such a wonderful, tender way. Good on him for expressing and releasing such a traumatic experience in a way that benefited others.

As for Sabrina


.
posted by ThrowbackDave at 8:21 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


If you're going to take a skeptic's approach you have to be willing to put in the work to have reason for it.

No. Because it's much easier to forge such a story than it is to prove it true or false. Maybe I'm just a bit sensitive to the possibilities here because I live in rural Georgia, and the place is thick with rumors that turn into air when you track them down, many of them having to do with Obama. But I think these kinds of urban legends need not be political to gain traction.

Well, that is my opinion. This one isn't a legend, although I kind of wish it was, for the poor woman's sake.
posted by JHarris at 8:36 PM on February 15


And with the value of popular Twitter and Tumblr accounts going up and no real check on the veracity of these stories, it's a case where the financial incentive is much higher than the risk. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is heading.

I don't think this is heading anywhere. The guy isn't asking for donations to anything or trying to sell a book. About a week and a half later he posted this comment about his previous post going viral:
For twelve days, I’ve been referred to as “great”, “heroic” and all degrees of “amazing”. I think the word “powerful” even came up at one point. This, for what? Because I knocked on a window.
Since then he's pretty much gone back to posting occasional essays interspersed with brief comments about traffic and weather. There doesn't seem to be any financial incentive, and he doesn't seem to be trying to capitalize on it.

This would also be a pretty elaborate hoax, involving setting up Facebook pages for fake family members ahead of time, with real friends, so the post would get reblogged once the family members linked to it.

The simplest explanation is that the guy made a blog post about a freaky thing that happened, then it got picked up a lot after members of the woman's family found it and linked to it. (If we're to believe the comments, a lot of them live in the same city and probably follow local blogs, so it's not a big deal that one of them found it.)

Sometimes it's safer to assume that simplest explanation might be true, and to at least consider that things may be what they appear to be. That something is posted on the internet isn't a reason throw Occam's razor out the window.
posted by nangar at 8:50 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I don't think this is heading anywhere. The guy isn't asking for donations to anything or trying to sell a book.

I'm not talking about this guy.
posted by JHarris at 10:13 PM on February 15


"This is a really good description of this phenomenon. I try to have awareness for when I feel like I might be making a decision not to do something that needs to be done when the reason given is "It's a thing the group has decided not to do" and the evidence for that is "No one else has already done it"."

This is called the bystander effect.
posted by klangklangston at 12:29 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Wow. I can see, then, how this got started, but I still wish it could be reined in a bit.

aryma, fakery is getting endemic, from fake eagles-snatching-babies viral videos to -- in my feed today -- a "massive ice wave" supposedly on Lake Huron due to the frigid conditions, which turned out to be a sort of honed-by-the-wind iceberg/glacier photographed in Antarctica in 2007 (found when I did a simple GIS). The photograph I was given, with the false attribution, had been shared on Facebook 17,000 times. Seventeen thousand.

I was also a denizen of the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, whence sprung the Snopes website, some twenty years ago, and witnessed many times the same sort of impulse to give even something that's already amazing -- a giant wind-smoothed iceberg! -- a juicier narrative framing.

Another example is the website or three out there that falsely links the justifiably hated Koch billionaires to the Nazi war criminals also named Koch, as if there's a) some family connection, and b) some business connection, both of which are utterly false. In fact the American Koch brothers come from a Dutch, not German, immigrant. I've seen that passed around by progressive yet credulous friends, and when I've tried to debunk it -- because after all there are already plenty of solid reasons to despise the Kochs -- there have been times when I've been attacked in return.

Today someone tried to link the billionaire Tom Perkins of the "Kristallnacht" commentary to a Gov. Scott Walker donor in California with the same name -- except a different middle initial. The original blog post is still up and I don't expect this situation to change.

This doesn't even count the ridiculous numbers of falsely attributed quotations, e.g. using modern language, to Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln or whatnot that I encounter online nearly every other day. It's obvious people are sharing these who've never read anything that person has actually written because the quotes don't even sound like them. When I find a correctly attributed quote I actually compliment the person for being the rare bird.

Actually, the first time this happened I was at a Rotary club meeting where some dentist got up and mentioned there was a kid in England who was trying to break the world's record for greeting cards and could we please send some? I actually printed out a news story about how Craig Shergold had been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and could people please stop inundating the hsopital he had been at with greeting cards as it cost them a lot of money -- sent this to the club secretary -- and the plea was still printed in the next newsletter so people could get the "correct" address. This was a guy with a medical degree and everyone else involved ran a business or a department or something substantial.

It doesn't take a genius to see where this is heading.

Exactly. I can't even trust "trusted" college-educated friends to pass along something with slight skepticism, so what hope do the credulous masses have?
posted by dhartung at 1:29 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


This is called the bystander effect.

By chance I just watched the SNL where Louis C.K. has an opening monologue about what happened when an older woman collapsed near him in an airport. He calls it "decency chicken".
posted by dhartung at 1:36 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Just what I'm talking about dhartung, thanks. I didn't have any specific examples at hand, but I've heard about it before. This probably explains something of why I was a bit over-upset in the horse_ebooks thread actually, as I see that as just being a further advance of the casual approach to the truth on social media.

For those late to the thread -- what we're talking about here doesn't apply to the story in the FPP. That story is not false. It probably did happen.
posted by JHarris at 2:19 AM on February 16


"I was also a denizen of the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, whence sprung the Snopes website, some twenty years ago, and witnessed many times the same sort of impulse to give even something that's already amazing -- a giant wind-smoothed iceberg! -- a juicier narrative framing."

I was a regular on a.f.u., too. But maybe you didn't assimilate the fact that ULs are not necessarily false, what defines ULs are how they function and not their truth value. Which is your "juicier narrative framing" part. But note that this doesn't make something untrue.

On a.f.u. we saw a lot of people who were overly focused on truth value.

And there's a similar problem here where cynicism is masquerading as skepticism. There's very good reason to suspect as false, say, a story of how gang members are initiated by killing the first person who flashes their headlights at them when they're driving around in a car. There's much less reason to suspect as false a story of a guy who finds a woman dead in her car in front of Starbucks.

Just because something could be false certainly doesn't mean that it's false and many people these days are basically assuming that something is false if they can imagine that it might be and until proven otherwise. That's just as lazy as assuming that everything is true if you can imagine that it might be and until proven otherwise.

What I believe I detect in attitudes like yours and JHarris's is something that is much more about a psychological defense mechanism than it is about a concern for social conditions or just a preference for knowing the truth of things. I understand this to some degree, I've been a skeptic all my life and back in the day was a subscriber to the Skeptical Inquirer. This worldview is what attracted me to Jan Harold Brunvand's books and then later to AFU.

But this experience has shown me many examples of people who fetishize skepticism, or become habitually cynical (which is distinct from skepticism), and generally miss the forest for the trees.

The things which are truly socially harmful, such as distortions or lies promulgated by Limbaugh and his ilk, many of the examples of urban folklore which are bigoted and fearful in their essence (and, again, they may in fact be true stories but still be ULs and be socially harmful in how they function) are the things which should be subjected to careful scrutiny and, if they are false, debunked. Photos of glaciers wrongly described as being of Lake Huron, not so much. You're just being a busybody.

If this writer was parlaying this into something else, especially involving money, then there'd be good reason to take a step back and ask whether he really was the person who found Sabrina Collins, or even if Sabrina Collins was a real person. But absent that, it's just not important. Taking a reflexively doubtful stance on this story, and then attempting to debunk it, is all about you and don't fool yourself into believing that this is motivated by social concern.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:04 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


The things which are truly socially harmful, such as distortions or lies promulgated by Limbaugh and his ilk, many of the examples of urban folklore which are bigoted and fearful in their essence (and, again, they may in fact be true stories but still be ULs and be socially harmful in how they function) are the things which should be subjected to careful scrutiny and, if they are false, debunked. Photos of glaciers wrongly described as being of Lake Huron, not so much. You're just being a busybody.

The problem with this attitude that I see is that it requires making a moral judgement on the claim being made before examining it. "If the thing being said is harmful then scrutinize it, if it isn't, it isn't necessary to look so hard at it."

Point 1: We don't all have the same moral sense.
Indeed, the kinds of people who forward harmful, misleading memes don't look carefully at what they're repeating for exactly this reason. A useful acceptance metric for random things you hear should ideally be universal, applicable by anyone, but the attitude you're taking, respectfully, is basically that of "things I agree with I'll accept, those I don't I'll look more carefully at." Of course, to some degree we all do that. Well, that's fine if you're already morally perfect, but none of us are, we all have self-examination and reflection to do, and this opens us up to a world of confirmation bias.

Point 2: There is no real difference between statements we think are morally harmful and those we think are harmless.
I gave the Rush Limbaugh example as an extreme (yet real world) example, to quickly make obvious the problems with the kinds of statements I was seeing. But it shouldn't be taken as my sole objection. Anything people believe that doesn't reflect the truth has the potential to cause damage, especially if it's believed by large numbers of people, and additionally especially if they think it's harmless if they're wrong.

One example:
A friend of mine was in the Marines for awhile. While there, he picked up a persistent false belief that I've tried to disabuse him of several times, that Mr. Rogers was in the marines, that he wore sweaters on-air to hide the tattoos along his arms, and that marines personally celebrate a day in his honor due to his service. This rumor has been thoroughly debunked, I've told him this, and told him to look it up on Snopes, but he refuses to believe it.

I'm sure the belief that it doesn't really matter one way or the other plays a role in his refusal to listen. But actually, Mr. Rogers was a committed pacifist, ordained as a Presbyterian minister, who worked in broadcasting his whole life. My friend's "harmless" belief undercuts the message of Mr. Roger's life, and Rogers himself may well have been offended by it. It gives my friend a false model of the world, and those false models, more than anything else, are responsible for the ills that we as a species subject upon our world and ourselves, whether they have to do with the history of a sweet-natured broadcaster who cares about children, or innate beliefs about the behavioral tendencies of other ethnic groups, or any of hundreds of other things that will lead us to make bad decisions if we don't examine them.

To bring it to the glacier example, it pushes forward a narrative about the freezing water in Lake Huron, that seems independently verifiable by the cold weather, but just isn't true. That gives the reader a false impression of weather conditions, and that itself could be taken, depending on one's views, to either falsely support or reject climate change -- or, the opposite of whichever those two options is taken, when the reader discovers the photo is faked!

Indeed, the most harmful false statements taken as true are those the writer, us readers, indeed the whole world would agree to be true. Our built-in cultural, sometimes biological biases. The things we see as obvious that actually are false, the things upon which we've built our worldviews. It's impossible to look critically at everything we know, see, think or do, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't recognize the need, the possibility we might be mistaken.

Well, to rein it back in a bit --

But maybe you didn't assimilate the fact that ULs are not necessarily false, what defines ULs are how they function and not their truth value.

They aren't necessarily false. But I've heard enough of them from non-urban-legend-research sources that have turned out to be false that I am skeptical right out the gate, and overall that attitude has served me very well, it has proven to me to be a very useful heuristic out here in the wilds of both Rural Georgia and Outer Facebook. Whether you choose to label that kind of skepticism as cynicism I can't help. You may even be right. But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea.
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


As it has been established that this story is true, maybe we could leave the derail about false statements/stories for a more appropriate thread? This is a moving article about a young woman who was found dead and it's disrespectful imo to turn a thread about her into general theorising about Internet truths.
posted by billiebee at 1:06 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


No, I think you missed my point. I accepted your example of Limbaugh, but "socially harmful" also applies to those things which we find to be very comfortable in their validation of our our worldview. That's why I emphasized "function".

I try to be as skeptical of things which validate my beliefs as I am of things which seem to invalidate them. I'm human, so I'm not as diligent and successful at this as I wish, but it's my intent.

The glacier photo and this example of the story of this post aren't things which (strongly) serve ideology. They might have been. If the photo were being passed around as proof that global warming is false, then for both people who believe in AGW and those who do not, skepticism about the photo is warranted. Likewise, if the story referenced in this post were framed as being about the moral failure of modern society (not noticing someone had died in public), and passed around in that context, then some skepticism would also be warranted.

But, as it was described, the glacier photo was just people being mistaken in thinking that it has been so cold that huge waves froze on Lake Huron. That indicates some credulity and ignorance about some things, but it's just not very important and there are about a bazillion other things that are important that we could be debunking or being more critical about.

Similarly, this, as presented and passed along, is a story about a guy who found a dead woman in her car and dithered, like most people would, about knocking on her window to see if she was okay. It's certainly something that happens frequently and while it could have been faked, and another story like it, either in the past or the future, will certainly be false, it really isn't important to ascertain the truth of this.

Modesty aside, I think I'm reasonably far to the extreme in my habitual, methodical skepticism and truth-finding about the world. I spend a huge amount of my time researching most everything I come across, comparing sources, and such. For me, the internet has been a boon, not a curse, because it makes finding a large number of diverse sources much easier, and consequently sifted out the most likely truth, much easier, than was the case back when information was more limited and we relied upon supposedly trustworthy sources that weren't as trustworthy as they liked to claim they were.

And living like this means, necessarily, prioritizing. We can't live as if we disbelieve everything we've not researched and/or proven; in practice, we have to have a pragma whereby we provisionally accept something as true unless we've a good reason to think otherwise. Many things present reasons to think otherwise. I spend my time and mental energy on the things which matter, such as scientific claims and political claims and all the various things related to the ways in which we both attempt to learn the deeper truths about the cosmos (science) and the ways in which we attempt to organize human society (politics). That doesn't leave much time to worry about faked YouTube videos of people doing skateboard stunts, or people's written accounts of finding a dead person in a car. If you're spending a lot of time and energy worrying about how the ephemera of the internet is corrupting society, you should be spending more time on the parts of the internet where people make normative claims about human behavior.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:15 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Well said, Ivan Fyodorovich. I'm just tired of the inevitable derailing of interesting stories for the sake of nitpicking their credibility. I understand that some posts need to be verified as genuine, particularly if there's likely to be a long-range or rebound effect, but I think it's become a hobby for some people to attack every bloomin' post right from the beginning, where the warrior begins by stating his doubt that the story is true as stated - as if his skepticism is really important. Then the second person picks it up and agrees that the story is probably just baloney. It proceeds from there, until the story itself gets lost in the speculation, which is when I get disgusted - and I doubt that I'm alone.

Yes, the internet is a chaotic mess, open to all and therefore open to lies and variations and, especially, political bias. But open to all it must remain, and if that means I get fooled by a photo of a volcano emerging from Lake Michigan, then so be it. I think I would prefer to let people choose their own poison, especially on Metafilter, where there are smart and open-minded people more than on most other websites; that's one of the main reasons I want to be here instead of someplace else.

And boy-oh-boy do I ever agree that when absolute trash is spewed forth by Limbaugh and others like him in massive amounts on a daily basis - that's what should be discredited - that's where we actually need an entire force of Truth Police to expose the lies.

Don't mean to be so critical - I love MeFi just the way it is, but yeah - I would still like to see it reined in a bit.
posted by aryma at 2:20 PM on February 16


This derail is just as interesting to me than the original conversation. Good work all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:38 PM on February 16


Point 1: We don't all have the same moral sense.
Indeed, the kinds of people who forward harmful, misleading memes don't look carefully at what they're repeating for exactly this reason. A useful acceptance metric for random things you hear should ideally be universal, applicable by anyone, but the attitude you're taking, respectfully, is basically that of "things I agree with I'll accept, those I don't I'll look more carefully at." Of course, to some degree we all do that. Well, that's fine if you're already morally perfect, but none of us are, we all have self-examination and reflection to do, and this opens us up to a world of confirmation bias.


This is why Stephen Colbert's neologism "Truthiness" carries so much agency -- i.e. This is a thing that sounds like it should be true according to my worldview, therefore I am more able to accept it as fact. Anyone with a healthy sense of skepticism should be able to sense that in their thinking when it arises, though it's often short-circuited by our desire for it to be true. It's not always just plain credulousness or a lack of skepticism overall -- it's situational. Even cynics can do it when it is a useful "truth." Colbert was able to very succinctly encapsulate this tendency into a single word that is actually very descriptive.

I find myself wanting to accept those Abe Lincoln quotes when it's a sentiment I agree with, and wanting to reject them when it's a sentiment I find objectionable. Not always an easy thing to fend off every day, though thankfully resources exist to verify or debunk these little tidbits presented as fact, and I think it's important to do so, although it's caused me to have some contentious discussions with believers on Facebook from time to time.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:55 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I mostly agree with billiebee, actually, this isn't really the place for it. If any of you want to MeMail me about it I'll try to respond.
posted by JHarris at 6:09 PM on February 16


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