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March 1, 2016 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Death by Text: A teenager sent her depressed boyfriend hundreds of messages encouraging him to commit suicide. Does that make her his killer? [New York Magazine]
Few psychologists or psychiatrists I spoke with were willing to discuss the case and what happened between Carter and Roy. Was she manipulating him in a ploy for sympathy? Frustrated by his repeated talk of suicide? Afraid of being pushed to participate in a suicide pact? Did she think, in some inexplicable way, that she was doing the humane thing in encouraging him to die? It’s impossible to say for certain, maybe because her defense has not offered a deeper explanation for why she would behave this way. Or maybe it’s because there is nothing that could ever really explain it away. (Carter's lawyer declined to make his client or her family available for comment. The prosecution also declined to speak on the record.)
posted by Fizz (108 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
No.
posted by Pendragon at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


"she was even chosen as the “class clown” and the person “most likely to brighten your day” in the senior-class superlatives, which were voted on after Roy’s death..."
posted by doctornemo at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Was she manipulating him in a ploy for sympathy? Frustrated by his repeated talk of suicide? Afraid of being pushed to participate in a suicide pact? Did she think, in some inexplicable way, that she was doing the humane thing in encouraging him to die?

it is also possible that she did it for the lulz
posted by thelonius at 10:00 AM on March 1, 2016 [15 favorites]


Jesus wept.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:02 AM on March 1, 2016


Jesus H. Christ - mentally ill or not, that's pretty fucked up.
posted by lpcxa0 at 10:03 AM on March 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


I kept looking for the FPP from when this actually happened - is this actually the first time we've discussed this case here?
posted by Navelgazer at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2016


Oh my god. Haven't finished the article yet, but after my knee-jerk "no" reaction to the headline, reading her texts to him sure as hell looks like she could / should be on the hook for involuntary manslaughter.

My heart goes out to his whole family, and especially his mother. This just shouldn't happen.
posted by Mchelly at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


I kept looking for the FPP from when this actually happened - is this actually the first time we've discussed this case here?

I think you are thinking of this post.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:12 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think her status as girlfriend tips the scales more to the side of her being, at the very least, criminally complicit. Such a personal and emotional status gives her a certain level of power and influence that a complete stranger wouldn't have.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


No, this certainly reminds me of that, but this was all over the news a while back.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2016


Yeah, reads like two mentally ill people found each other. They both needed help.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:14 AM on March 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


While he ultimately took his own the life, the "I fucken told him to get back in" (the car filled with CO) text certainly seems like it deserves some measure of culpability.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 10:15 AM on March 1, 2016 [14 favorites]


Read the whole article. She was also sending him a lot of "don't kill yourself" texts and struggling with suicidal ideation herself. Read to the end. The format is clickbait.

The real story seems to be "a teenager got totally overwhelmed by her boyfriend's persistent suicidality until she got the totally wrongheaded idea that it would be kinder for him to get it over with instead of struggle". She's a kid who should have been able to go to adults in her life, but instead made a very bad decision.
posted by Frowner at 10:16 AM on March 1, 2016 [85 favorites]


Jesus H. Christ - mentally ill or not, that's pretty fucked up.

It's fucked up, but I don't think it's that unusual. Rushing now, will try to find stuff later, but there's tons of research suggesting bullying isn't always or even *often* about some compensatory strategy to deal with poor self-esteem. Lots of bullies have *high* scores on self-esteem measures and indeed seem to do it for the power + lulz. (maybe Nietzsche > Oprah on that one)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Even with possible mental illness issues this crosses the border into evil for me. I'm generally loath to use the label but sometimes if just fits.
posted by srboisvert at 10:20 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


The real story seems to be "a teenager got totally overwhelmed by her boyfriend's persistent suicidality until she got the totally wrongheaded idea that it would be kinder for him to get it over with instead of struggle". She's a kid who should have been able to go to adults in her life, but instead made a very bad decision.

Precisely and entirely. Is there actually anything more for us, as strangers, to say about this story?
posted by howfar at 10:22 AM on March 1, 2016 [32 favorites]


I don't think it's that unusual.

egging suicide on is unusual. exerting power over others to test limits not so much
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really, really urge people to read the whole story. The format is an absolute disgrace - exploitative and socially violent. It conceals the actual facts about the relationship until right at the end.

If this story started out "this girl got overwhelmed by her boyfriend's persistent demand for support during his periods of suicidal ideation; he seemed so miserable to her that eventually agreed with his suicidal narrative and helped him to kill himself; it is very difficult for anyone to deal with a friend who is persistently suicidal, and you should always get outside help if you are truly worried that a friend will kill themselves" we would all be sympathizing even as we recognized that this was a very terrible and tragic situation.
posted by Frowner at 10:24 AM on March 1, 2016 [68 favorites]


Okay, this is interesting. The defense paints a picture of chronic suicidality in which this young woman was the only support. I have been in a position like this and it is gruelling beyond words. Feeling responsible for the life of someone who is actively trying to hurt themselves or die is just... impossible. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. And the grind of it creates a secondary trauma which, if not treated, will eventually overwhelm the carer.

I had fleeting thoughts that I wished my partner would just go ahead and do it already. At times I began to see the logic of her desire to die and to agree with it. I sank into the same hopelessness she did. She tried to extract promises that I would help her do it and I was tempted to co-operate. (I did not, and she survived and is much healthier.) It is only because I was supported, with my own therapist, that I was able to navigate this and not waver in my support.

I would not be surprised if such forbidden thoughts appear in similarly intense situations -- caring for a dying relative, for example. (e.g. "I hope you just hurry up and die"). Such thoughts are horrific when they surface, but they don't mean we are monsters; just that we want the punishment to end, before it breaks us. This is the mind trying to find a way to survive.

+1 to Frowner, I see it exactly the same way. Had I been in my teens, struggling with mental illness, unsupported and dragged through chronic suicdality like this, I would have broken, guaranteed. And no-one can say how they would behave in such a situation.
posted by anybodys at 10:24 AM on March 1, 2016 [82 favorites]


I see what you're saying, Frowner, don't disagree. I think it was a little of column A & a little of column B.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:33 AM on March 1, 2016


This FPP absolutely needs to read instead, "Death by Text: A DEPRESSED, MENTALLY ILL teenager sent her depressed boyfriend hundreds of messages encouraging him to commit suicide. Does that make her his killer? [New York Magazine]"
posted by jfwlucy at 10:39 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


No.

*TRIGGER WARNING SELF HARM*

Ok, one time I was in group in a PHP program and a girl there was saying the military didn't think she was sick and they were going to have MPs come and get her if she didn't report in. I, being the idiotic, obnoxious twit that I am, facetiously said to her "well if you try to hurt yourself they'll take you in-patient and they sure as hell won't be able to come get you". Anyway, I got the scolding I rightly deserved, I apologized and we moved on.

Until two hours later... I'm walking back to my car to head home and I see the girl in the parking lot crying.

She had slit her wrists.

Obviously I ran inside, got the co-ordinator of the program and they immediately got her help (being outside a hospital). Three of them came up to me and said "we know what you said but it's not your fault, you words cannot be responsible for other people's actions and they make their own choices. You cannot internalize this and put this on yourself. She makes her own decisions and you can't control her actions."

So no. I wouldn't blame her one bit.
posted by Talez at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2016 [15 favorites]


When I read the transcripts of their texts I was swayed that something about this should be illegal. He writes her cheery notes asking how her day is and she changes the subject bullying him into suicide. Over and over.

It's a so disturbing and sad.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:42 AM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of alt.suicide.holiday and similar pro-suicide/"suicide methods" communities.

It's funny. I participated in some a.s.h spinoff communities at a point in my life when I was badly suicidal. And I also participated in a lot of trans-related boards and chatrooms — including some where everyone (or nearly everyone) was in the very early stages of accepting being trans and a long way away from actually transitioning, and where people who successfully transitioned basically vanished from the community. ("Ascended," we called it.)

And the social dynamic in both cases was so, so similar. "We all want to do X. We all feel that doing X is the only way to relieve our suffering. We are all filled with sheer abject terror at the thought of actually going through with X, but we're somehow still convinced it's the only way. None of us really know anyone who's succeeded at X, and a lot of us have tried X and failed. But still, we're going to do our best to support each other in X, because it's what we would want ourselves." Both communities had people who succeeded pretty quickly and disappeared. Both had people who never quite succeeded themselves but became founts of information and resources for others. Both had people who weren't even particularly trying to succeed, but just found it comforting to be around other people who shared the same impulse. And so on and so on.

Obviously in hindsight transitioning was a good idea and trying to kill myself was a bad idea. (And there are some trans communities where the analogy breaks down — so, so many more now, but there were some even then that weren't that toxic and uninformed, and that had plenty of real live fully-transitioned adults participating and sharing information.) But… I don't know. It's just unsettling thinking of the similarities between those communities of scared and fucked-up people trying to egg each other one, one of which kind of saved my life and one of which would have tried to help me die.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:46 AM on March 1, 2016 [27 favorites]


I dated someone who struggled with suicidal ideation. Fortunately, he was doing well during almost all of our relationship, but I still recall once being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night and biking across the city in the dark so that I could try to talk him down - this after being on the phone with him for an hour. I was so tired, and I felt really resentful, honestly. I was in my twenties at the time, we had a pretty good relationship and yet I could totally see how if I had been dealing with that every day for a long period, I could have made some bad choices. It was just "ha ha, you thought you were going to sleep now so you could get up and work; but you're not! Because this is a drop everything situation!"

And this was before texts - it wasn't like I would hear a beep and then bam, I need to deal with it.

But the lurking knowledge that any day could be another day where I'd have to drop whatever I was doing to go deal with it....that was stressful in itself, and it would have been much worse if my boyfriend had worse problems.

As I know from having had a partner with chronic physical health problems, the knowledge that any plan any time can be derailed by a stressful emergency gets very exhausting, and there is no cultural narrative that physical health problems will be my fault if I do not immediately knock myself out to help my partner.
posted by Frowner at 10:51 AM on March 1, 2016 [16 favorites]


If you can't deal with a partner's suicidal ideation, the correct path is to break up with them, not to send hundreds of texts encouraging them, in very specific detail, to kill themselves and how to do it. Yes, they may still react badly, but then it's absolutely not on you. Either deal with it, or break up with them, block their texts, and move on with your life.

I think a lot of people are projecting REALLY DAMN HARD here to excuse some really vile behavior. Now as to whether she will be judged legally liable, I don't know, though the discussion on specifics of how she wanted him to do it very well may have moved into the legally liable area. But either way, it was shitty behavior, mental illness or no.
posted by tavella at 11:08 AM on March 1, 2016 [27 favorites]


> If this story started out "this girl got overwhelmed by her boyfriend's persistent demand for support during his periods of suicidal ideation; he seemed so miserable to her that eventually agreed with his suicidal narrative and helped him to kill himself; it is very difficult for anyone to deal with a friend who is persistently suicidal, and you should always get outside help if you are truly worried that a friend will kill themselves" we would all be sympathizing even as we recognized that this was a very terrible and tragic situation.

I understand this framing and generally agree with it. Certainly I empathize with the difficult situation she found herself in after having had a relationship with someone who was suicidal.

I absolutely do not sympathize with her. Knowingly encouraging someone who is not at the end of their life to kill themselves is completely morally abhorrent and mental illness is no excuse for this. It's especially odd to see this on MeFi -- on stories where a mentally ill person is directly responsible for a death, a common refrain is that we should not solely define the murderer by their mental illness, that doing so allows us to ignore everything else and hurts other mentally ill people by association. Why should this girl's actions mainly be defined by mental illness?

Perhaps I am misreading the implication that this girl is not in some way individually culpable for Conrad's death, something I am very uncomfortable with.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 11:18 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah. No. This is not her fault.

My abusive ex-boyfriend got me to let him stick around much longer than he deserved by threatening to kill himself if I kicked him out. It took a lot of very lonely fear for me to decide that my safety was more important than his.

He eventually did kill himself after another of his victims broke up with him. My only regret is that I have no way to reach her in order to make sure she knows that it was not her fault. Just like it wouldn't have been my fault if he had done it after I called his bluff.

Suicide victims are victims of their own acts. I don't care if their girlfriend, their parents, or some nurse on the Internet tells them to do it. It's still a choice that they decide to make. Many suicide victims are mentally ill, true, but the decisions of a mentally ill person are still their own.
posted by toe-up, afterthought heel at 11:21 AM on March 1, 2016 [13 favorites]


Having read the article, I don't agree with the comments saying it was deceptively framed. She sounds like she was only remorseful because she was caught. I don't doubt that she has some sort of underlying pathology, but this is some profound emotional abuse. It doesn't read much like suicide pact/net suicide incidents, either, but far more one-sided and controlling.

As somebody who has struggled for years with suicidal ideation, I find stories like this terrifying. The person egging the other on essentially acts out the internal voice of depression and affirms the most disordered thoughts, and it's beyond malicious and irresponsible. If anyone finds themself doing this, the appropriate thing to do is detach and get help.
posted by thetortoise at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2016 [24 favorites]


I mean... she was what, 15? 16? With mental health issues of her own? And we can't even stop in our rush to demonize her, label her with anything that clearly marks her as not like us so that we can believe we'd never do anything like that. And we're supposed to be the adults in charge, the adults who see kids like this struggling and lend them a helping hand instead of condemning them after making a huge mistake because they didn't have the benefit of another 10-15 years of experiences and insight and developmental growth to realize they had other options, they could have made other choices.
posted by palomar at 11:25 AM on March 1, 2016 [23 favorites]


I once dated a manipulative alcoholic abusive man in my early/mid twenties. He suffered from suicidal ideation. In the beginning, I was supportive. In the middle, I would regularly drop everything at two in the morning to drive hours to the remote locations he would text me from. In the end, we would have terrible fights. I tried to get him to move out, and he would tell me that he would absolutely commit suicide without me in his life. And I didn't just tell him that I could live with that. I told him he wasn't man enough to go through with it, so stop holding it over me.

Breaking up with him felt like I was sentencing him to death. To get out, I accepted that culpability. He set it up that way. Many abusive people do.

As far as I know, he still lives. But put me back in high school, and I'm not sure how I would handle the codependence that forms in those sorts of relationships. And even if I'm not as evil as she is, I worry about the precedence a successful prosecution would mean for folks like me.
posted by politikitty at 11:27 AM on March 1, 2016 [13 favorites]


Having been in online mental health forums where someone threatens suicide and others angrily respond "Shut the fuck up" or "stop crying wolf", being at wit's end is one thing, being overwhelmed or outraged, even if you are callous and cruel, that's one thing. But I think saying repeatedly, after "how's your day?" "are you going to do it? When?" etc, that becomes a different matter. I think this presents a lot of grey area that is beyond a normal sense of overwhelm. But the fact that she did try to help him originally shows this to be much more complex than at first glance. The fact that she was pretty aggressive about and pressuring him when he was changing his mind...this makes things pretty complicated. It sounds like she turned a weird, dark corner even if she was initially sympathetic. I think this goes beyond someone just being overwhelmed in the face of repeated threats; she snapped in some way. While I feel like I could be sympathetic to her being angry in the face of repeated threats, she turned into a sort of aggressor, she seemed to be badgering him into it. The fact that she rehearsed her response to his death and asked him about deleting the texts before killing himself...oh that does not look good. My sympathy for her ends with those last three events.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2016 [18 favorites]


Perhaps I am misreading the implication that this girl is not in some way individually culpable for Conrad's death, something I am very uncomfortable with.

Personally, I think the whole idea of culpability is wobbly, here and in general. "Tragic" was used above - that is more accurate, imo. Many factors were at play with this, as with everything - whatever the girl's issues are, whatever the boy's were; their unique dynamic; their families' issues; available support or lack thereof at the community & school level (funding, politics, etc.), the cognitively biasing & persuasive effects of echo chambers like that online community, etc. etc. This event was awful, no question. She (her behaviour, pathology, whatever) did have some role to play. (I do still think she got a kick out of it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Regarding the framing of the story, maybe it's not good, but it seems very typical of crime reporting to say "Was this an evil act, etc" and then go into the bigger picture.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:36 AM on March 1, 2016


According to the article, the supreme court has already ruled 'that “advising or encouraging suicide” is protected by the First Amendment.' And Massachusetts doesn't have a law against assisted suicide. So while I might find her to be morally culpable, it's hard to see what the case is here. It's completely legal to be an awful person. (Or I might not find her morally culpable; the people arguing compassion for a teenager with mental health issues have a good point, as do the people who point out how difficult and frustrating it can be to interact with a suicidal person over months and years.)
posted by surlyben at 11:40 AM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


And even if I'm not as evil as she is, I worry about the precedence a successful prosecution would mean for folks like me.
But I think the average person differentiates from saying "I'm leaving you even if you try to kill yourself" and "Have you done it yet? Why are you changing your mind? Don't be weak, c'mon get back in that truck full of carbon monoxide". I mean Christ, the second scenario is a horse of a different color and and that's why this case is making the news. I'm sure there are all kinds of texts where someone says "If you leave me, I'll kill myself" but less that say "Is today the day? C'mon, just do it already". I see what you're saying about precedent, but it seems to me that the difference of aggressively, repeatedly encouraging someone is what she's being charged for, much like in the Minnesota nurse who was egging people on and giving methods and so on.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:42 AM on March 1, 2016 [23 favorites]


Right, but that Minnesota nurse was probably older than 15 when she was doing that... we're talking about a teenage girl here. We're all aware that people aren't developmentally finished at that age, right?
posted by palomar at 11:48 AM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


I read to the end, and if anything the girlfriend sounds even more manipulative than the framing suggests. She appeared to be practicing her grief and remorse on her friends and his mother, and playing at both being the villain (are you going to do it already?) and the heroine (I just wish I could have stopped him).

She obviously has her own mental health issues, but that shouldn't stop us from feeling complete horror at her actions.
posted by kanewai at 11:49 AM on March 1, 2016 [13 favorites]


The thing is obviously the appropriate thing to do is detach and get help. And to me the take-away here is two-fold:

1. We know that teenagers have a lot of trouble detaching and getting help. Hell, adult mefites have trouble with that. There are many, many tragic situations where teens try to take care of something difficult and complex well beyond their ability or resources because of cultural messages, immaturity, lack of access to helpful, safe adults, depression, teenagerness, etc. Surely we can all think of things that we really, really should have brought adults in on when we were teens. Even I can, and I had hardly any friends*.

2. There needs to be some more scaffolding and resources for teens (and for everyone, but especially for teens). That means safe adults, for one thing. And it means some way of teaching, early on, that if someone is seriously suicidal, you need to tell the safest person available.

*Let me tell you a story about teens. When I was eighteen, I lived in a dorm. Our RA was 19. A friend of mine had severe mental health issues. [Things happened] and I realized that she had taken all her pills. I got her down the hall to the RA. It never occurred to me to call 911 from my room, just to get her to someone who was responsible. The RA didn't call 911. I asked her a couple of times whether we should call an ambulance and finally told her to call 911 while my friend nodded out. It was all okay in the end, but that degree of bad decision-making on both our parts - well, I am fairly intelligent and always ready to see the doctor, and the other girl was the RA and had presumably had some training.

My point is that suicide-related stuff is way, way worse and more confusing on the ground than you think it will be.

And my friend's parents? Didn't even show up to visit her in the hospital, and they were rich. Safe, sensible adults aren't always available to teens.
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on March 1, 2016 [14 favorites]


My son's girlfriend in high school did something similar (although to a lesser degree) encouraging him to OD on his anxiety meds. Luckily, they are not deadly. She also contacted the suicide prevention hotline after he did it. It was a bit of a head scratcher to say the least. Her mother committed suicide a couple years later, after they broke up. He is now fine.

Struck home.
posted by sfts2 at 12:03 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think she should be held culpable for manslaughter, especially considering her age, but I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that her behavior was anything other than wrong or that the personal situations offered in this thread (being emotionally exhausted by a suicidal partner, being deliberately manipulated by threats of suicide) are reasonable comparisons. Unless there's a lot of information missing here, what she did went way beyond that, and I really think we're talking about different things, not just a matter of degree.

I think the fact that nearly all their interaction was over text is very significant. It seems like social inhibition is lower when people don't have to look someone in the face and when they don't expect immediate personal consequences, and people will engage in a degree of aggressive or harassing behavior online (or while driving, for that matter) that they wouldn't in real life. I wonder if he didn't seem quite like a real person to her.
posted by thetortoise at 12:11 PM on March 1, 2016 [26 favorites]


I absolutely do not sympathize with her. Knowingly encouraging someone who is not at the end of their life to kill themselves is completely morally abhorrent and mental illness is no excuse for this. It's especially odd to see this on MeFi -- on stories where a mentally ill person is directly responsible for a death, a common refrain is that we should not solely define the murderer by their mental illness, that doing so allows us to ignore everything else and hurts other mentally ill people by association. Why should this girl's actions mainly be defined by mental illness?

Almost nobody talking about the girl's point of view, or her particular challenges, is trying to dictate how anybody is supposed to feel.

The point of considering her mental state is to figure out how to prevent this from happening again.

Just dividing the world into bad people and good people isn't useful for problem solving. It also alienates people who do, for whatever reason, feel compassion -- this is a difficult enough problem that all minds are needed to solve it. However, even if nobody felt compassion for this person, whether there's "any excuse" is irrelevant. To prevent tragedies like this, understanding and support of human hearts is necessary.
posted by amtho at 12:17 PM on March 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


I hope she doesn't end up in jail or prison. What the hell good would that do her or anyone else in the world?
posted by eggkeeper at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2016


Part of it is the damn framing. It's set up as if we have access to all relevant information and as if the purpose of this article is for us to decide, like a jury, whether this girl is "guilty" or not. That's stupid clickbaity framing. The article tries to force us to think of this horrible, tragic situation in only two ways - is she "innocent" or is she "guilty"?
posted by Frowner at 12:23 PM on March 1, 2016 [14 favorites]


Containment of a possibly dangerous possible psychopath is a good to society. Depends on how redeemable she is/how well equipped science/her system are to redeem her.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:24 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


The psychological urge to condemn and render other is so overwhelming that we have founded entire moralities and societies upon the scratching of this itch.
posted by howfar at 12:34 PM on March 1, 2016


Right, but that Minnesota nurse was probably older than 15 when she was doing that... we're talking about a teenage girl here. We're all aware that people aren't developmentally finished at that age, right?
Oh absolutely, that has to be factored in. But I was talking about it in context of setting a precedent between charging someone for saying "Oh, fuck yourself go die already" versus "Get back into that truck full of carbon monoxide". That's the difference I was making; 16 or not, she was displaying pretty aggressive behavior. Of course, we don't have all the texts to see the full dynamic of their relationship and how she devolved into an aggressor, but she was still an afgressor of some kind.

As was said above, she probably won't be convicted anyway because of the laws, but she should be monitored because I think she did snap to the point of being a danger to others. Whether or not she can be legally forced into treatment & monitoring is another matter.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:37 PM on March 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


The psychological urge to condemn and render other is so overwhelming that we have founded entire moralities and societies upon the scratching of this itch.

Not advocating condemning. Advocating *containing* if reasonable predictions suggest it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:41 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


As a tangent, the forum I was in that had heated and hateful exchanges about suicidality included one member who was booted off for being mean and ragey toward people who made suicide threats. I was friends with her; she was severely bipolar and her husband had committed suicide in a very grisly way. So she would go ballistic when the topic came up, understandably, she would snap. It was very sad and disturbing. I would be curious to know what relationship this girl had to suicidality in general- did any relatives suicide? Did she battle with it herself and project it onto him? etc etc. I'm just playing armchair psychiatrist here, but as this case gets covered, we'll probably see all kinds of sad/disturbing things come out of her history.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:48 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seems we cannot know whether or not he would have committed suicide without her (ongoing and constant) encouragement... But we do know that he took his own life and that she urged him in this decision. To say that she played no part in his decision-making (i.e. that he was truly an island unto himself with pure, objective free will, unaffected by the constant death wish texts of his girlfriend) seems fatuous. But suggesting that she deserves some kind of total culpability is wrongheaded. He was struggling, clearly. Maybe she was too. What's most difficult about this for me is the apparent vacuum their relationship existed in. It reads a lot like an abusive relationship - and maybe it was - but maybe that's a narrative we are too quick to overlay without knowing more of the facts.
posted by Bob Regular at 12:51 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


I feel like if this were a guy telling his depressed girlfriend to get back in a truck full of carbon monoxide we wouldn't hesitate to call him abusive. I don't know why this girl gets so many passes for her behavior. I can kind of understand "fine, just kill yourself already" out of years of frustration, but repeatedly, specifically urging him on is just plain old fucked up.
posted by desjardins at 1:14 PM on March 1, 2016 [39 favorites]


I'd also like to say that I'm a little uncomfortable with the label 'sociopath' because the current conventional wisdom is that some people are 'just born evil'. I think it's the cop-out of our time, just like 'the devil made him do it' was a hundred years ago. Of course, we acknowledge the wrongness of an act so screwed up as this, but I think the trend toward assuming people are 'born that way' (which is possible, though) means we'll lose opportunities to understand more about how children develop, what are risk factors and so on. In the past, it was assumed there was no such thing as molestation, then we 'discovered' it. Bullying used to be considered 'just boys/kids being boys/kids'.

I think now people often assume that if a family is middle class, white etc etc that they're 'normal' and that pathological behavior has to just appear magically outside of influences. But now we know clergy, teachers, coaches abuse kids. We know kids abuse each other. We also know abuse doesn't have to involve physical injury. I think the label of sociopath prevents us from so many learning opportunities and opportunities for awareness and prevention.

/soapbox rant
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:15 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, fully agree with you on how psychiatric labels can lead people to hold flawed ideas about e.g. genetic inevitability, and to overlook social contributors. I hope we can eventually be more clued in re actual causes, and deal with people we now describe as sociopaths or psychopaths (because that is just a description of recognized patterns, right) more humanely. I remember a stat showing something like 60% of a sample of a prison population were found to have frontal lobe injuries (with social factors no doubt contributing to that, too). Still - what do we do with that, in terms of mitigating damage (to the perpetrators themselves; to their communities and families), given limited resources?

I think we roughly know what to do about the root causes (e.g. addressing inequality. And, imo, taking more care around representations, and processing representations - copycat suicides and murders are a thing, why? Community norms and technologies have a certain power, why? Ideas are contagious etc). It's a question of a critical mass of energy and opinion moving in that direction, and timing, I guess.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:33 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think a big part of the problem is that criminal justice and psychiatry are kind of at odds with each other because attempts at understanding causes gets seen as justification because legal requirements involve placing blame/culpability and of course, most people don't want to feel like they're justifying murder and so on. In the 90s there was a backlash against what was called 'the abuse excuse'. Of course, a case like the Menendez brothers didn't help too much...
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:39 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


If what that girl did is not an evil act then almost nothing is.
posted by srboisvert at 1:40 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


I feel like if this were a guy telling his depressed girlfriend to get back in a truck full of carbon monoxide we wouldn't hesitate to call him abusive. I don't know why this girl gets so many passes for her behavior.

Because she is/was a child. If this was the same situation with the genders reversed we'd be having a very similar conversation. Does sexism and gender biases play into this? Certainly. But that cuts both ways. I bet there wouldn't be as much talk of manipulation or people calling her a black widow. (Not in thread, that was quoted in the article from some other coverage)

Most teenagers don't understand death. They don't know what it's like to actually lose someone. They don't understand that their lives are literally just beginning and that they haven't already lived out their lives to their fullest potential.

We have limited information on this case. Some of us are just trying to do the compassionate thing and believe that she feels remorse and thought that she was doing the best thing she could.

I don't want to get all reductionist on this, but man, teenagers are dumb. They don't understand the full repercussions of their actions. This is exactly why we have a law of majority.
posted by mayonnaises at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


The ethics and pathology of her behaviour aside, I'm really puzzled by the decision to criminally charge her with manslaughter in a state where there is no specific "aiding/abetting/counselling suicide" crime. For manslaughter, she has to have caused his death. Normally the law doesn't treat anyone as the cause of an outcome brought about by another person's voluntary act. Voluntary acts break the chain of causation. If I tell you to break a window, and you do, the law doesn't charge me with breaking the window (although I might be liable for helping you to break it). Similarly she may be responsible for her own act of aiding/counselling suicide (not criminal in her state in any case) but how can she be responsible for his death itself? Unless the prosecution is arguing that he had no free will at all so that the suicide didn't count as a voluntary act? It seems like a slippery slope.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:23 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me, when thinking back on my own experiences with major depression, that there have been an astonishing number of people who have said something to me like "well, maybe you should kill yourself," or "why *don't* you kill yourself?" It's like, every close friend.

I don't think it's an uncommon thing to do. I suspect the logic goes "well, I can't talk him out of it by disagreeing, so maybe if I agree with him.." Of course, I doubt any of them would tell me to get back in the car. Also, I've never been suicidal, so my response is usually something like "why are you bringing up suicide?!" and then I laugh (which may also be why they say such things. Maybe I just have horrible friends.)
posted by surlyben at 2:33 PM on March 1, 2016


@Aravis76 - I think it's an attempt to ride (or accommodate) the tension GospelofWesleyWillis described. Awkward, yup.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:41 PM on March 1, 2016


If what that girl did is not an evil act then almost nothing is.

Someone can be both a villain and a victim at the same time. What she did was reprehensible, absolutely. But words like 'evil' are reductive: implicitly, evil things are done by bad people, and good people don't do evil things. I like to think of myself as a good person. I like to think I would never browbeat someone into killing themselves. But the truth is in this situation, if I was her, living her life with all of her burdens and pressures and God knows what, I have no idea how I would have reacted, no idea what I would have done and whether that might include things I thought I would never do. That's the only thing I can say with any certainty and I am suspicious of anyone who claims otherwise. Beyond breaking point, behavior is undefined.

If it was evil, what then? What should be done? Lock her up and throw away the key, as we do with all the bad people? Tar and feather her as the online press are doing? The only purpose this serves in my mind is creating distance between her and us so that we can feel more secure in our own goodness. The worse we make her out to be, the less likely we have to confront our own shadow selves which are very much capable of this kind of behavior. But she is human and so are we, and the good/evil dichotomy serves only to take us away from our common humanity. Whether it should be called evil or not seems to miss the heart of the story.
posted by anybodys at 2:45 PM on March 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


If what that girl did is not an evil act then almost nothing is.

Maybe nothing is. At least in the deeply significant sense that a lot of people seem to feel it is. I mean, sure, we can categorise a number of acts as "evil" and then...then what? What do we do with the category? Without a Christian (or similar) cosmology of sin, punishment and redemption, what do we do with the category 'evil'? Congratulate ourselves for not being in it? Even though we practically all of us know that we've allowed people to die through our own selfishness and laziness? We may be bad, but at least we're not evil? Is that it?

I'm largely a Nietzschean on these points. The urge to talk of evil (or more scientistically of 'sociopathy'), to create objects of moral monstrosity and set them up in opposition to ourselves, these are psychological urges. Which doesn't make them wrong, necessarily. But I think it makes them different to how we tend to understand them.

I don't know the answer. I do think this horrible story is best understood, like most things, through a reckoning of human fallibility, foolishness and weakness, and that great ethical concepts like 'evil' are likely to do much more to obscure our view than illuminate it.
posted by howfar at 2:57 PM on March 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


When I was in high school, about this girl's age, I had a friend-turned-obsessive-stalker. He would routinely write me long letters telling me how he was going to kill himself if I didn't love him, if I ever dated anyone but him, etc. (This was pre-cell phones. I shudder to think how bad it would have been if he'd been able to text me.) Multiple letters, every day. No one would do a damned thing about it -- I showed them to friends, I showed them to the school's guidance counselor -- hell, my own mother saw them, but no one took it seriously.

I eventually got so tired of it, the constant worry and dread, that I responded to one of his letters telling him to just go ahead and kill himself, if that was what he wanted to do. Stop threatening me with it and just do it. I told him that I didn't care what he did, as long as he left me alone. It wasn't true, of course -- I was afraid of him, but I was also afraid FOR him, and I didn't really want him to die. And he didn't kill himself. But if he had, and anyone had seen that letter I wrote? They sure as hell would have thought I was a monster. So I'm reluctant to judge this kid. No one knows what was going on in her mind.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:34 PM on March 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


Voluntary acts break the chain of causation. If I tell you to break a window, and you do, the law doesn't charge me with breaking the window (although I might be liable for helping you to break it).

Actually, it does charge you with breaking the window. We hold people legally accountable for the actions of others in a number of circumstances, in both criminal and civil law.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:52 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


(what you might be thinking of is the traditional rule (but not necessarily the case in modern jurisdiction) where the law makes it impossible to hold people criminally liable for things that other people did that are not crimes. Or, possibly, the typical situation where someone is trying to charge someone else with conspiracy, but the only other party in the conspiracy is the victim. That doesn't really work.

In a situation where you have involuntary manslaughter, you don't actually have to have pulled the trigger or otherwise been the sole cause of the death. Instead, it tends to be about adding a substantial amount of risk of death into a situation. Someone can get charged for involuntary manslaughter even if they were in a building that caught on fire, if they had recklessly created a substantial risk that the building would catch on fire.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:57 PM on March 1, 2016


Also, the extent to which an intervening actor cuts off the chain of causality is a very interesting one! There's actually a case that I know of that's very similar. I don't have the cite right in front of me, but it's a case where two teenagers are drag racing, one of them dies, and the other is convicted of involuntary manslaughter or a similar crime. California case, IIRC.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:03 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


@sarcasticah

I think there's probably a difference between one letter and a bunch of texts but I suppose bottom line is the difference is quantity. I still feel like I would personally view your situation in a different light than the one we're talking about from TFA.

I also thinks there's a difference between threatening suicide and BEING suicidal and telling people who you think you can trust about it.

This is a hard story and it brings up some difficult questions but I feel like personal anecdotes really don't contribute much to the work that's trying to be done in this thread.

I have my own anecdotes involving more than one SO threatening suicide for this or that reason but it is entirely beside the point here so I'm not going to muddy the waters with it.
posted by some loser at 5:19 PM on March 1, 2016


This is a hard story and it brings up some difficult questions but I feel like personal anecdotes really don't contribute much to the work that's trying to be done in this thread.

I can't speak for sarcasticah, but I disagree. There's a lot of dehumanizing of Michelle Carter in this thread. That what she did was unspeakably evil and nobody could consider being in that scenario.

We don't know the full story. But I can put forward my own story of codependence and desensitization to mental illness. While I recounted one fight, it took months and dozens of fights and text messages and tearful emails to get out of that relationship. I said despicable things, and by the end I was okay with being culpable for his death to get out of that relationship. I had to be. Because every time I wasn't okay with that, I would find myself giving him another chance, because I felt he needed the support to hopefully eventually get the help he needed.

There are no perfect victims. She might be a bully who thought it was fun to see how far she could push this kid to the edge. But I also see the possibility for someone who was so overwhelmed and desensitized to the idea of suicide, she stopped seeing the potential consequences.

Also, there's a long walk between 2nd degree murder, where you are actually committing an unlawful action (whether it be drag racing, or another felony) that led to someone's death, and this case where the underlying action never rises above speech.
posted by politikitty at 5:47 PM on March 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


I place a lot of importance on the fact that Carter herself was suicidal, if not at the time of Roy's death than for a lot of the time when they were together. What looks like the tragic death of a young person to the vast majority of us may have looked like genuine relief from suffering and a brave decision to her. We know from communities like alt.suicide.holiday that suicidal people tend to encourage each other -- mostly not because they are murderous monsters, but because they see it as a viable choice for each other as well as themselves.

Therefore, I have sympathy for Carter not because I see her as a put upon partner of someone with mental illness, but as someone who was struggling with mental illness herself. That's my own interpretation of the situation and no more or less valid than anyone else's aside from those involved, but it's another way of looking at it.
posted by telegraph at 5:51 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Personally, I'm anticipating hearing about her in the news again, in about fifteen years or so.
posted by happyroach at 6:27 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I place a lot of importance on the fact that Carter herself was suicidal

I may have missed it, but I don't remember seeing this anywhere? She was treated at a psychiatric facility for an unspecified condition, and her friends worried about her mental state, but that was all I saw. The most chilling part is the distance between her public face of grief after his death (which may be genuine or may be a performance) and private worry about covering up her tracks with the text messages, lying to his family about what she knew, and quibbling over who gets credit for his memorial. She doesn't sound like someone feeling remorse, but who knows; people are all different.

I am actually glad that others in this thread feel empathy for her because this is one of those places where I hit my own limits and can't understand what she did. Maybe this is my own problem of non-neurotypicality or failure of imagination, I don't know. But I feel like Conrad Roy was treated horrifically and am having trouble feeling anything other than very sad for him.
posted by thetortoise at 6:58 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sarcasticah, a similar thing happened to me. I was 14, a 16 year old boy stalked me and told me he would kill himself unless I became his girlfriend. I didn't put it in writing, but I told him to go ahead, he could kill himself and I would not care one bit. I think my reaction was mostly due to the rage I felt at someone trying to manipulate me.

I never even stopped to think he could have actually done it until now. I ended up telling my parents and they went ballistic and stood up for me 100%.

I don't regret it. I love 14 year old me too much to regret it.
posted by Tarumba at 7:34 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I can see how possibly after being tired of him talking suicide and putting the burden on her to stop him, she might become "just do it already and leave me alone."

But mostly I think we just don't know enough.
posted by corb at 8:27 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I had a conversation with my husband recently about future cell phone monitoring of our daughter's phone. I told him that I planned to absolutely have access to it at any time and she would know that I would periodically review texts and social media, etc.. A few years ago, I would not have had this stance. He was horrified and said this would be an invasion of privacy. It would be! But I read stuff like this and I feel like some adult in their lives should have seen this stuff and acted. His parents were clearly worried about him. They should have been reading this stuff.

I feel like the constant pressure of texting/social media is a real different beast. I don't think it's fair to kids to have them navigate this on their own.
posted by amanda at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here's my imaginative failure - I had a few weird ideas at 17, but can't imagine, even given my 3/4-cooked noggin at the time, not hesitating to tell someone I argued myself into believing should die to "get back in[to]" a car to gas himself. Being frustrated he didn't do it sooner.

We definitely don't know enough, it's true.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:40 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


(I was pretty good at arguing myself into positions I'd laugh at now, but I guess I imagine some part of my [maybe roughly maturish by then] life-valuing lizard brain, or mirror neurons, or something, might have kicked in at some point. Although she did mention heaven a few times, in texts to friends - maybe beliefs around that helped her "helping".)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:49 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I told him that I planned to absolutely have access to it at any time and she would know that I would periodically review texts and social media, etc..

Just so you know, you'd be pretty much guaranteeing she'd use her superior knowledge of either technology or the social uses of it to evade your surveillance. You need to build trust so that she will feel able to come to you with problems like this. For most kids, that will do just the opposite.
posted by praemunire at 8:55 PM on March 1, 2016


This is a hard story and it brings up some difficult questions but I feel like personal anecdotes really don't contribute much to the work that's trying to be done in this thread.

I can't speak for sarcasticah, but I disagree.


I also disagree because part of trying to understand the situation is in seeing how likely this is to happen to, or be done by, someone else and under what kinds of circumstances. With online bullying being a new thing we have to parse and to determine what legal limits are and I think it's useful to see how common something may be that is shocking but possibly wrongly assumed to be uniquely pathological. From what we've seen here, saying "fucking die already", while shocking, happens probably more than we think it does. Of course, I still think what she did was pathological, but we're trying provide framework to understand an unusual case, and the Minnesota nurse case is only superficially related, in some respects, because while he did the same thing, he actively sought out suicidal people with the intent to watch by webcam, but she did not. That is a huge difference. The Minnesota nurse case involves a clear psychopath, but Michelle Carter's case, we don't really know how and why it turned psychopathic because we don't have the full story. We can only guess based on similar experiences, and I think that's what we're attempting to do.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


to clarify, part of the 'huge difference" I was talking about was in the nurse's search for victims, whereas it does not appear (IIRC) that Carter sought out the boy specifically because he was suicidal. From what I recall, they were going out and both related because they had issues, and he reached out to her. Of course, if we learn more and that proves to be the case that she did pursue a suicidal person with nefarious intent, than that would seal it, but I think in a relationship like this that would be damn difficult to determine, much less prove.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:15 PM on March 1, 2016


To look at this from another perspective, if she had been encouraging him to this degree to commit a criminal act such as murder, it would not be difficult to conclude she had been an accessory. Some culpability here then seems obvious, notwithstanding that she is a minor, which offers some mitigation.
posted by walrus at 11:00 PM on March 1, 2016


it would not be difficult to conclude she had been an accessory

(1) U.S. law no longer has a concept of "accessories," that work being done now primarily by conspiracy and/or aiding and abetting statutes.
(2) Not having committed affirmative conduct to forward the crime, she would be unlikely to be convicted under either type of statute (although conspiracy is so intellectually elastic that sometimes it seems anything can happen at trial). I didn't comb through the article, but it looked like she limited herself to verbal encouragement, not even offering him an incentive to move forward with the plan.

That said, involuntary manslaughter sounds about right. Unlike most varieties of charges related to causing death, involuntary manslaughter doesn't require an intent to cause death. A high degree of negligence that results in a death is sufficient. Her behavior, especially telling him to get back in the truck, must have contributed to his death.
posted by praemunire at 11:41 PM on March 1, 2016


We hold people legally accountable for the actions of others in a number of circumstances, in both criminal and civil law.

Sure, but my understanding is that we do that through specifically secondary forms of liability: as an accessory, or for incitement / abetting etc. In this state, there is no secondary liability for counselling or assisting suicide and the generic principle of liability as an accessory to a crime doesn't hold for suicide, because suicide isn't a crime any more.

The argument that she actually caused his death directly - through his act - completely collapses the distinction between primary and secondary wrongdoing. If you break a window on my persuasion, I might be charged with encouraging or assisting criminal damage. The argument that I broke the window - I caused it to be broken - means that I myself would be charged with criminal damage. This matters, since the mens rea requirement of the two offences may be different. In English law, criminal damage requires recklessness or intent, whereas encouraging / assisting a crime requires intent or belief that the crime will take place. If I say something to you that induces you to break a window, and am reckless about whether you do so (rather than believing or intending that you will), I don't commit the crime of encouraging criminal damage. But, if your act doesn't break the chain of causation, I might have committed the crime of criminal damage myself (caused a window to break while being reckless about the possibility that it would).

That seems to me pretty much what's happening here. The standard for assisting suicide, in most jurisdictions where that crime exists, is intention, not recklessness; and I think it should be intention, since holding people criminally liable for carelessly encouraging others to commit suicide would be a very low threshold for going to jail. Because they're running it as manslaughter in this case, they get to invoke a recklessness standard instead; she could be liable even if she didn't intend him to commit suicide, she was just reckless about the possibility. I think that's a pretty low threshold of responsibility for someone else's act.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:47 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem is that our complex, multifactorial reality is inadequately captured by the idea of bound, rational, complete, unitary agents being causes of singular events in any kind of simple or direct way. The reality is that we are (imo) largely, probably mostly, vehicles for processes above and below - and beyond - our conscious experience, plans, etc. I'm not ready for total nihilism, a wrong thing happened - life is (usually) better than death; somebody died who shouldn't have (though that's obviously arguable & has been argued here a bunch of times), and this girl (and her processes & the ones close to her) leaned into that event pretty hard.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:06 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


It may be true that, in some larger sense, individual agents aren't simply responsible for unitary acts that they themselves plan and carry out but that moral responsibility is a much finer criss-cross web of influence and carelessness. But I think a criminal law based on that approach would be pretty scary. Roughly speaking, you should be held responsible - in the sense attracting a jail term - for your own actions and their consequences if you intended them or (sometimes) foresaw them.

Morally, of course, we might criticise or be horrified by people whose actions don't fit within this framework. Maybe I'm responsible in some very important sense for the fact that a kid I was horrible to at school went on to be horrible to others. But I don't think the state should bring out all its mechanisms of coercion - locking people up, stripping them of control over their lives, taking them out of their community and relationships by force - for situations like that. The state should only bring out these powers when very clear criteria for deliberate action are met.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:22 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Although she did mention heaven a few times, in texts to friends - maybe beliefs around that helped her "helping".
I think you may've hit on something there; although part of me thinks she was performing a sympathetic role for friends to make herself look good, another part of me considers that she very well could've thought of herself as mercifully ending her loved one's pain, thus doing the "right" thing even if she thought it was illegal. It's hard to reconcile the fragments because each of the puzzle pieces evoke such strong feeling and they are merely text messages out of a larger context that is still unfolding.

If she'd experienced suicidality, she may've seen her role as merciful, sort of a 'cruel to be kind' mercy in ending his pain. It's just a little hard to reconcile that to the agressive tone of her messages, but it's also possible (especially since she had mental health problems) that she went back and forth from anger to empathy frequently, or even experienced them simultaneously.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:34 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean... she was what, 15? 16? With mental health issues of her own? And we can't even stop in our rush to demonize her

The article clearly says she was 17, so when you suggest she was 15, you're distorting our understanding of the situation.
posted by John Cohen at 12:54 AM on March 2, 2016


Just curious, how many times does someone have to threaten suicide before one is generally considered to be justified in telling them to "just do it already!". Asking for a friend who it seems MAY have been doing it all wrong all this time.
posted by some loser at 3:59 AM on March 2, 2016


Here are some different claims you could make about an action:

1. This was a criminal thing to do. E.g. Murder.
2. This was an awful thing to do, and the person who did it is fully morally responsible for their act. E.g. Badly hurting someone's feelings, they then go harm themselves.
3. This was an awful thing to do, but the person who did it was not fully morally responsible for their act because of the circumstances and/or their mental state. E.g. Hurting someone in self-defence, under the influence of mental illness, or under a mistake.
4. This act had a bad outcome, but it was understandable because of the situation. E.g. Telling someone to stop calling you, after a bunch of harassing calls, and they then go harm themselves.
5. This was a praiseworthy thing to do, everyone should do the same.

I haven't seen anyone in the thread say number 5. This discussion has been around 1, 2, and 3, with occasional comparisons to 4.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:46 AM on March 2, 2016


But I think a criminal law based on that approach would be pretty scary.

Yeah, I think you'd have to do away with the idea altogether, and maybe go for a medical-sociological model instead, and make probabilistic utilitarian calculations around risk to determine how to handle people (processes) involved in an event.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:00 AM on March 2, 2016


To what extent would a medicalised approach also involve coercion, though? It doesn't matter if you call it "law", my interest is in the proper use of state-mandated violence. Medicalising crime wouldn't eliminate the risks of coercion, it would just remove some of the existing protections that depend on the concepts of autonomy and responsibility.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:13 AM on March 2, 2016


I'm agnostic as to Carter's moral culpability for her part in this tragedy, which I think remains indeterminate based on the evidence in the article, but I believe that a conviction here would set a terrible precedent. According to the article, On at least two occasions in the texts that are not included in the messages released by prosecutors, Cataldo said Roy asked Carter to kill herself with him. “He said, ‘Let’s do a Romeo and Juliet,’” he says. Is that also coercion? Consider the scenario "If you leave me I'll kill myself", a common threat from depressive abusers. Is the bluff-calling strategy off the table? If a partner replies "Go ahead", are they now criminally liable for a future suicide? What degree of anger or vehemence on the part of the bluff-caller is justified before the involuntary manslaughter threshold is reached? How many angry texts? Also important - will they now be more likely to be convinced of their own culpability if a tragedy should occur? What if a more vindictive suicidal boyfriend were to suggest a death pact to his 17 year-old girlfriend, and use this precedent as psychological leverage any time she had lashed out at him in frustration at his constant suicidality?
posted by Svejk at 6:54 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well sure she could have thought she was trying to help him but her "like hurry up and die, dude" impatience does not make sense. Was she trying to relieve herself from dealing with him any longer? I don't think she is responsible in any case. She may have sought him out but he was obviously keen to continue correspondence. I've been depressed before (not suicidal but depressed) and I had a friend who was in the same situation and although an outsider may have thought we were dragging each other down, offloading like that was extremely cathartic. I don't doubt that she has similar feelings herself which may have drawn her to him, as one poster said above.

Age is irrelevant as emotional intelligence only develops when it does.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 6:57 AM on March 2, 2016


@Aravis76 - It would have to involve some coercion, for sure. (I mean we're into science fiction now, and I'm sure someone with a much better brain than mine's come up with a scheme along these lines that either makes total sense or is nightmarish also I'm just having my coffee now, so plz be gentle, plz )

But I don't know, say you've got something like - a football player kills his wife or girlfriend in a rage. Families and others are horrified. But he's had eight concussions, maybe his medial prefrontal cortex is shorted out, because he's ten years into a career playing for a league that permits a certain kind of contact in the sport, and hires doctors invested in continuing to work for that league, who are maybe not so inclined to see symptoms of TBI. I guess there would be an investigation of the player (imaging, history - multiple passes at the images by different specialists), then an investigation of the league's practices - concussion-promoting ones would have to change. I guess the doctors who saw him would be interviewed and have to go for some kind of training. Officials and doctors overly invested in maintaining a pro-concussion environment would be replaced and restricted from positions of responsibility in future. Footballer would get treatment and supervision. If the footballer showed a pattern of behaviour of raging, comparable, (within a margin of error) to other people with similar symptoms and patterns who did not benefit from available treatment, maybe he'd have to live with more invasive kinds of restrictions and supervision. The dead woman's family would receive some kind of repayment for their loss, from the league, involved doctors and officials, some from the player, too. Obviously science fiction!
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:57 AM on March 2, 2016


I don't think that medicine has no role to play in responses to violent acts. If someone does something that would definitely usually be a crime but there is diagnosable mental illness, or brain injury, the criminal justice system can make a ruling on culpability, given the medical factor. If the medical factor means they can't be held responsible, there may still be a case for involuntary treatment - including detention - if the person is a physical threat to themselves or others. If a judge makes that ruling, we then hand the person over to the doctors.

But this is different from taking acts that aren't crimes at all in the eye of the law and saying that we will have a coercive response to those acts anyway because they reflect a mental abnormality or whatever. And of course there are safeguards involved in a legal process - burden of proof on the party making the case for detention, the right to a defence etc - which would be missing from the kind of extra-legal bureaucratic process you seem to be envisaging. I'd call a world where processes of that kind replaced criminal justice dystopian fiction, not just science fiction.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:52 AM on March 2, 2016


I, for one, am really quite shocked by how her deeply manipulative abusiveness has been downplayed and whitewashed in this thread. I have to remind myself that the reactions I see here seem to come from a place of knee-jerk empathy and kind-hearted (and misguided) projection, because otherwise they would be unbearable.

I see many of you compare what she did to what you have done - or even just felt like doing - when dealing with someone suicidal, which is a hell of its own. But none of the situations anyone has described here have even been in the same postal code as this case.
    CARTER: "You just need to do it, Conrad, or I'm gonna get you help."
She knew very well there were other resources, that there would have been help available. She egged him on. Repeatedly. This is abuse, and really fucking twisted kind. Or like a version of Münchhausen by proxy: endangering or harming someone close to you, in order to gain emotional fulfillment from the attention, pity, empathy and admiration you yourself get from outsiders. (Which is precisely what she went on to do afterwards.)

I don't know if she is permanently missing her moral cells, or if she will go on to develop empathy later in life and live to regret this. In both cases, I do feel sorry for her, but she was not the victim here. What she did was callous.

And finally, I think this is one of the few cases where it's worth imagining the genders reversed, because downplaying the harmfulness of women's actions is a kind of sexism of it's own. And I think many of you would see it differently if this had been some 17-year old jock guy telling a girl his age:
    "But I bet you're gonna be like 'oh, it didn't work because I didn't tape the tube right or something like that.' I bet you're gonna say an excuse like that ... you seem to always have an excuse."
posted by sively at 10:43 AM on March 2, 2016 [12 favorites]


As has already been stated in thread, many of us would also be concerned about the mental health of a 17 year old boy in this girl's situation. 17 is still underage, y'all. A 17 year old's brain is not fully cooked developmentally, regardless of their genitals.
posted by palomar at 11:19 AM on March 2, 2016


Does anybody else remember "i told u i was hardcore" from internet lore? This reads similarly to that.
posted by theorique at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not arguing for throwing the book at her. I'm not sure whether this should be even prosecuted. It probably wouldn't be, in the legal systems I'm familiar with here in Europe. And if she is, I think she should at least be tried as a minor, because hello, she was one at the time.

At the same time, it really feels important to me that her abusive behaviour be recognized and acknowledged as abuse. It is jarring to see people jump to the assumption that she probably just meant well, didn't know what else to do, or was exhausted. There was no indication of any of that in any of the texts I read.

My heart really hurts for that young man. To be so vulnerable and treated with such heartlessness.
posted by sively at 1:24 PM on March 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


Betteridges law FTW again!
posted by telstar at 3:04 PM on March 2, 2016


I think the label of sociopath prevents us from so many learning opportunities and opportunities for awareness and prevention.

I'm not a big fan of the labels of "sociopath" and "psychopath" because they don't seem to be incredibly well-validated categories scientifically. I think - I hope - in the future we will have a much more nuanced understanding of what's actually going on with people who would be so described.

I'm also pretty convinced that the assumption that behavioral patterns always have a social/experiential cause is going to be way wrong in the long term. But that doesn't mean there isn't an environmental or biological cause that might some day be avoidable.
posted by atoxyl at 3:17 PM on March 2, 2016


She knew very well there were other resources, that there would have been help available. She egged him on. Repeatedly. This is abuse, and really fucking twisted kind. Or like a version of Münchhausen by proxy:

It's not clear to me over what period of time the messages we are discussing actually took place. A week? Two? Mostly all in one day? Months? Do you know? Because I don't see how you've formed this strong conclusion, and maybe I'm missing out on a timeline that would help me understand.

I also think we need to keep a handle on the fact that we're commenting almost exclusively on messages released by the prosecution in this matter.
posted by howfar at 3:23 PM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not clear to me over what period of time the messages we are discussing actually took place. A week? Two? Mostly all in one day? Months?

I don't understand how that bears any relevance to whether this was abuse or not? One day of abuse is still abuse. I'm disappointed to even have to say that here on Metafilter, of all places.

But based on the content of the texts, it seems they took place over at least a few days, if not more (e.g. there are several times when she's asking him if today is the day he'll finally do it, and admonishing him for always finding an excuse etc.) And the texts clearly show that the egging on was repeated, and went on right until the end.
posted by sively at 12:49 AM on March 3, 2016


I don't understand how that bears any relevance to whether this was abuse or not?

I think it bears great relevance to how we view the behaviour and the individual. A seventeen year old reaching a point, after being some version of "strong" through years of confusion and pain, where they do something terribly wrong, is very different to an individual who has exhibited such "deeply manipulative abusiveness" that it allows you to diagnose "a version of Münchhausen by proxy: endangering or harming someone close to you, in order to gain emotional fulfillment from the attention, pity, empathy and admiration you yourself get from outsiders."

You don't know what was in this person's head. Neither do I. Maybe she's a monster. Maybe not. But excluding the possibility that this was done for any other reason than her own wickedness or madness is unlikely to be the way that we prevent such things from happening again. She did a terrible, awful thing. We can certainly call it abuse, if you like. But it wasn't an abstract act of evil. It wasn't something that just happened. The "kneejerk empathy" you are offended by is actually the desire to understand bad people and bad things, not in order to excuse them, but rather to prevent them.
posted by howfar at 10:34 AM on March 3, 2016


I don't understand how that bears any relevance to whether this was abuse or not?

Most abusers were abused. In this case, I think having your boyfriend ask you to commit suicide with him multiple times during a regular onslaught of discussing his own suicide plans also classifies as abuse. And his abusive actions predate her abusive actions, even if his culpability was diminished due to his depression. She did not start encouraging his suicidal ideation until the end of a three year relationship. Even weeks before his final attempt, she said she needed to know he wasn't going to hurt himself. It was only in the final weeks that she snapped.

There are no perfect victims. And while nobody asks to be abused, I think this relationship painfully shows just how much abuse is cyclical and learned, not just acted out by bad people onto good people.
posted by politikitty at 12:21 PM on March 3, 2016


Look, since we're laying out our personal baggage here, I was supporting a suicidal and self-harming partner, at the age of 15. (Or to be precise: at first, a friend, in the way that intense teenage lesbians are friends, and then within a few months a partner.) I was completely on my own in that for about six months, because she didn't trust anyone else with the knowledge. And when I finally managed to get her to the point of telling an adult, the 'help' she got involved scaring her into stopping anything overt by threatening her with hospitalisation; as soon as she stopped the self harm and voicing any suicidal thoughts she was declared 'cured' and nobody besides me talked about it with her ever again. I knew after that that I was responsible for her, and I continued to feel responsible for her for most of the rest of the relationship, which lasted nearly five years. Meanwhile I struggled with my own depression and suicidality, which had started a few years before our relationship even began.

It was terrifying, and I don't think any child should be put into this situation. I had to grow up ridiculously fast, and a lot of my own emotional development got weirdly distorted.I'm not sure I've ever really got over it, or what 'getting over' it would mean.

And I would never, ever, ever, ever have sent the texts this girl sent. Not because I was some kind of super-brave moral saint, but because it would have been completely inconceivable. I loved my girlfriend. I loved her before we were girlfriends. And even if I hadn't loved her as a particular, she was a person, as well, a life that I had to take care of. I gave up my childishness to keep her alive, and I would have done it thousands of times over. I had to grow up, which meant: I had to learn that sometimes you don't choose what life throws at you. You don't choose to find yourself responsible for someone, but you are. I remember being 15 and pacing around and around for hours thinking about which words I could say to try to talk her out of it. She was religious; I was not, but I developed a whole range of theological arguments in an attempt to prove to her that God wouldn't want her to die. Any moment she was out of my sight, I was scared. If she was late to school, I was frantic, and nobody knew why; later, when our relationship became known, people assumed I'd been lovesick. Definitely that's what my parents thought was going on, when we went away on holiday and I was quiet and miserable all week. What they didn't know was that I was praying, over and over again, to a God I didn't believe in, saying "I'm not yours, but she is. I'm asking you to keep her alive for her sake, not for mine." All I wanted was for her to be alive when I got back. This was before mobile phones, or at least before ordinary teenagers like us had mobile phones, and I didn't know if anything had happened until we'd driven back from the airport and rung her house from the landline. (Although, I saw a rainbow as the plane was taking off, and in my state of anxiety decided to take it as a sign that all was well).

I cannot believe that we're saying that a teenager isn't capable of understanding that it would be wrong to send those texts. Teenagers are often stupid, but they're also often free to be stupid. But teenagers who aren't, who because the world is stupid have to be as grown-up as they can manage - they're going to lack knowledge, sure, but there's nothing about being a teenager that numbs you to what it means to send your suicidal partner constant wheedling texts encouraging them to die. That is abuse, to put it mildly, and although most people who commit terrible crimes are pitiable in one way or another I can't see that this girl is much more pitiable than any other seventeen-year-old who's done terrible things. Prison probably isn't the best place for any of them.

Sorry, that all came out in one gush, but this really struck home, I suppose.
posted by Acheman at 12:53 PM on March 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


For the record, I have not diagnosed anything, or anyone. MbP was a comparison, simply because her actions after the fact seemed attention seeking, but I'm more than happy to drop that as a derail.

I have also not called her a monster. I have clearly stated that I don't know whether she'll eventually go on to develop a moral compass or not; I can imagine that to be the worst punishment she could ever face, actually.

Calling this abuse doesn't mean calling it an abstract act of evil, stemming from evil or madness. I feel like words are being put into my mouth, and it's really frustrating.

At this point, I'm ready to agree to disagree and leave it at that, with as a footnote that the level of (what from my perspective reads as) abuse apologia in this thread has been very disconcerting to see. Like the arguments about finally "snapping", about the other person also having been abusive, about whatever's been in the abuser's head defining abuse rather than their actions.

I'm leaving the last word to whomever wants it. I will read all further comments because I know how frustrating it is to end in a disagreement when someone simply walks away. Which is, however, what I really need to do now.
posted by sively at 1:01 PM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Reasons and excuses are not the same thing. Empathy is not the same as apologia. Something can be terribly cruel, wrong and monstrous, while also being entirely understandable, pitiable and human. It's just a mess.
posted by howfar at 1:48 PM on March 3, 2016


sively is right.
posted by OwlBoy at 3:12 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm pretty offended at people trying to paint a dead abuse victim as the abuser, and particularly at the people using it as an opportunity to compare him to abusive exes. This is not about your ex, it is not about you telling him or her "I don't care, kill yourself if you want, we are done." Stop projecting and sliming a victim to enable it.

This is about her demanding that he obtain the tools of his suicide, and mocking him when he did not. This is about her isolating him by telling him that everyone he loved would be happier if he committed suicide. This is about her sitting on the phone with him *as he committed suicide*, listening to him breathing in his death and when he had a moment of sanity and got out, demanding he get back in and die, and listening to his last gasps. That's not being a fucking teenager, that's being a fucking sociopath. I was a teenager once, I was never that cruel or psychotic. 17 year olds may not be finished products, but normal ones have developed empathy by that point.

Yes, maybe we'll all be lucky and she'll eventually develop those missing parts of her brain. Or maybe it will turn out to be a folie a deux where two people were uniquely bad for each other. But I would stay the hell away from her and make sure she didn't have contact with anyone or anything vulnerable, because like another poster, I think the odds are good it won't be the last time she manipulates someone to hurt them and we very well may hear about her again.
posted by tavella at 4:57 PM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


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