Suicide baiting — they cheered while my son jumped
UPDATE: Kathie Yount recently passed after a hard-fought battle with cancer. This was her first column for us, driven by the cruel injustice of the death of her only son, Dylan. On this desolating occasion, it seems right to remember that Kathie was a fighter for justice, a writer of great passion and eloquence and, on a personal note, about the best friend I could ever have hoped for. Safe travels, Kathie. I will always miss you. Original date of publication: April 29, 2013.
Not many mothers will live to see a child’s death cheered. Such a repugnant thought is not only disgraceful, but if cheering at a death should happen at all, it would surely be reserved for the most despicable among us like a Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden. The very word cheer and all its variants still traumatizes me, for that is how my gentle son died — by being cheered on to his death at the evil behest of a savage crowd who even cheered him as he lay dying.
Dylan Gifford Yount was bullied to death in a suicide baiting in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, on February 16, 2010. He died in the midst of a medical emergency in a mentally confused state, the only mental crisis he ever experienced that we who love him ever knew about. He died on the second day of the 2010 National Random Acts of Kindness week on the 2010 Mardi Gras Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, on what Christians celebrate as Shrove Tuesday.
He died, dehumanized and in despair, in front of 1,000 people who mostly stood watching while others taunted him, provoking his death, and denigrating his state of mind, which he made obvious by his position on the ledge outside his loft above the Forever 21 store at Market and Powell. He had lived in that sixth floor loft just 10 days with his girlfriend. It was the only floor on the building that had a ledge.
On the Monday before his Tuesday death, I was living a normal life, substitute teaching on Monday and working on Tuesday at the antiques shop I co-owned. When I came home on Tuesday, as usual, I immediately called Dylan. A voice I had never heard answered his phone. When I excused myself for dialing incorrectly, a man told me I was not wrong. He said he had Dylan’s phone and had only answered it because the caller ID said “mom.” He was in my son’s apartment.
When he identified himself as a medical examiner, I panicked and rapidly began asking questions about my son. If the man had said he was a coroner, I might have understood what was happening, but California has medical examiners. I had no idea what a medical examiner was at the time. When he asked me if I was alone, I remember telling him stupidly, “I am always alone. I am an English teacher.” The man must have thought I was crazy, but eventually he did tell me what had happened, offering the slightest hope for my desperation — that the man lying on the pavement six floors down was not Dylan (the body had no identification on it) and that there would be fingerprint tests (California prints everyone at driver’s license time) — that he would call me back when he definitively knew who the victim was. Yet, when I hung up, I knew everything was forever different.
That was the moment when I died, too, right then, and everything was spinning, spinning, spinning in my kitchen. I remember all the sensation of the indescribable horror of that evening’s nightmare — my family rushing to be with me (four hours away) friends coming by, phone calls and phone calls and phone calls all evening back and forth to that medical examiner, to loved ones. The shock.
Even as I was drowning in grief, a parallel and documented horror was happening that I was not aware of, because my loved ones were sheltering me from it. For that night and for many days after (I was terribly and vocally suicidal; he was my only child) they kept me from knowing that my son’s death had gone viral in the most horrific way imaginable. The very same people in Hallidie Plaza who had provoked my son’s death were now uploading their grisly trophy pictures and graphic death videos onto the Internet, creating a new death porn that has a shelf life of forever in our digital age. TOPTOM2010 was Photoshopping a “comic” that he posted on at least 10 sites that Tuesday and Wednesday. He posted his video as well. I did not know this. I was clueless. My only computer was at the antiques shop, so I knew nothing about this outrage until Thursday when I learned that Dylan’s jump had been posted.
I began constructing what had happened on March 2010. Little did I know that when I began my research, it would grow into 25 file boxes about what Dylan suffered before he died. I do know that if he had made it through that singular dark experience, he would be alive today. From this experience, I have come to know that there are more good people in this world than bad, but I agonize that this is not what Dylan saw in his last moments on earth.
He saw the complete despair and viciousness of life. He experienced raw hate from a random group of people. He saw xenophobic sociopaths who wanted him to die for their entertainment. His death was violent and degrading, like “Lord of the Flies” in real-time. He was sport. In their predatory hands, he was victimized by people who knew nothing about him. If Dylan had been looking for a reason to live – not die – he did not get it that day. Their verdict was a thumbs down: JUMP! And most insidious of all were the 24 police who stood down that day, snickering, and some say joining the mob that wanted him to jump. The police simply taped off the jump zone and waited.
My son was ambivalent even at that last moment. He did not want to die. He had to be convinced. If the predators who had snapped and snarled at him been asked to move along or to remain quiet under threat of arrest, my son would be alive today. Multiple people broke the law that day, yet no arrests were made. California Penal Code 401 is clear: Anyone who encourages a suicide is guilty of a felony.
Today is the 1,166th day following Dylan’s death. I am now three years and 70 days into the horror that I still and will always endure. I still cannot believe that what happened to Dylan really happened His death is as shocking as it was the night I first learned about it.
Before Dylan’s death I had never heard of suicide baiting; now I have a Facebook page about preventing it. I had never heard about the Houston studies on impulse suicide, but I understand them now all too well. I do not know if I will be successful in educating others about deindividuation and how this social phenomenon can turn a crowd into an unthinking mob. I do now firmly believe this: if there are no punishments or consequences in this case, suicide baiting will become more commonplace.
In my research I have discovered those who take great pride in causing the suicidal to go ahead and just do it. Once I used to enjoy the social camaraderie of joining, but now I think it best to keep the mothers-whose-children’s-deaths-are-cheered-group as small as humanly possible. It is a club I hate. It is a membership shameful to humanity. It is a club that saps me of strength.
(Edited by iPinion contributor Maya Spier North)