Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Sunday Times: Loren Coleman

The Sunday Times of London's correspondent interviews Loren Coleman, suicide prevention consultant and author, with the cluster of youth self-inflicted deaths in Wales on her mind. The situation must be put in context to bring it into focus.

In the January 27, 2008 issue of The Sunday Times, Kathy Brewis writes a thoughtful article, "Suicide: a teen’s way to instant fame," which details what she discovers from young people and adults about the Bridgend suicides.

Here are selections from the Brewis Times essay:

Suicide is far from painless, both for the people who do it and for the ones they leave behind. The cluster of seven suicides in Bridgend, south Wales, has left scores of grieving relatives and friends and the rest of us stunned at the thought that these young people – some pictured partying just days earlier – could take their own lives.

Disturbingly, the town’s teenage population seem less surprised by the tragic events. Below a steady drizzle, a group of teenagers outside a Bridgend off-licence discuss their dead friend Natasha Randall, the most recent in the series of suicides to have afflicted the town and the only girl. Their rationale is shocking.

“Perhaps she just got bored,” says Aaron, a 17-year-old in a hooded top and trainers. “It’s depressing living here. There’s nothing to do and we’ll never get decent jobs. The best I can hope for is to carry on stacking shelves at Tesco.”

* * *

It’s too simple to blame the internet for a phenomenon that, according to Loren Coleman, author of the book Suicide Clusters [and The Copycat Effect], has ebbed and flowed throughout the centuries and is often linked to complex social factors. In the depression of the 1930s, he points out, Americans blamed comic books for [youth violence and infrequently murder-suicides] plainly linked to economic deprivation. Today, says Coleman, “it’s not video games, it’s not the media, it’s not television. It’s part of the human condition”.

It’s nothing new, he claims: “Sigmund Freud held a conference on youth suicide clusters in the 1920s.” When Coleman published his book in 1987, nobody believed they were a phenomenon. Now, he says, it’s a no-brainer. “The particulars are a small geographical area, similar ages and backgrounds and similar method. All these kids died by hanging. That’s a method that takes some thought and it’s very painful. It’s almost certainly because they heard about it and chose it in a deliberate fashion.

“People find it easier to accept the idea in families, like the Hemingway family, where five people chose suicide. Well, these youths are like an extended family. If you’re vulnerable and desperate, you’re easily affected by models. You think: if they figured suicide was their option, maybe I should.”

* * *

There used to be five youth focus groups in Bridgend, where teenagers could turn for counselling, but funding was withdrawn and now there is only one. “Bridgend has poverty, unemployment, it’s an old mining town . . . the osmosis of depression, the groundlessness, has leaked through to the youth. What is there for young people if they stay in that community? What sense of hope has been lost?” says Coleman.

“People forget that suicide is about pain. It’s about escaping from pain, not ending your life. So the only way we can help young people is to talk to them about that pain. And it’s up to us to say that yes, there are some bad parts of life that we all go through, but life is really pretty wonderful.”

If you are concerned for a young person you know, call Papyrus’s helpline on 0870 170 4000

Columbine-Type Hijacking

Columbine references, six involved in the plot, the hijacker's name, a book on 9/11: Interesting new details have been released about the hijack plot uncovered on January 22, 2008. Recall, this is the one in which the jet was allegedly set to crash into the Lafayette Cajundome.

Christopher Zunino Accinelli, 16, of Novato, California, is the youth who was arrested with the plot to hijack a jet from Los Angeles to Nashville. One reported plan was to then fly the airliner into the "Hannah Montana" concert at the Lafayette Cajundome in Louisiana, scheduled for Friday, January 25, 2008.

The teen told law-enforcement officials that six other persons with bombs were involved in the plot. According to a report in the Washington Times, officials said they also found aerial maps, a tome about the September 11 terrorist attacks, and a laptop computer with locations circled on a map.

Law-enforcement officials also searched the boy's home in Novato, and said they found a mock cockpit. His family could not be reached for comment.

The federal security official said the plot looked like a "Columbine-type deal."

Few people recall that, indeed, part of the plan developed by Littleton's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was that after their attack at Columbine, they wanted to hijack a plane in Colorado and fly it into a tall building in Manhattan. Remember, Columbine happened in 1999, two years before 9/11.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Suicide Hijack Plot

Hannah Montana, Lafayette, Southwest Airlines: The strange suicidal hijacking scenario unfolding in Nashville seems hard to believe. Perhaps it is too weird for the FBI.

But on January 5, 2002, Charles Bishara Bishop, 15, crashed a plane into Tampa's Bank of America Building, in a copycat of the 9/11 attacks. Bishop died by suicide during that event. It can be done.

A sixteen-year-old boy was arrested by FBI agents for plotting to hijack a plane as part of his own bizarre suicide bid, as reported on January 25, 2008.

FBI spokesman George Bolds said the teenager was removed Tuesday night (January 22, 2008) from Southwest Airlines Flight 284 by authorities at Nashville International Airport and found with "suspicious" items (handcuffs, rope and duct tape in his bag). The juvenile was alone and suicidal. He remains unidentified.

A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the teen's juvenile status, said the boy was from Novato, California, a suburb of San Francisco, but could not elaborate. His parents reported him missing on Tuesday, January 22, 2008.

One of the crew members on American Airlines Flight 11 which flew into one of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was Jeffrey Collman, 41, a Novato, California, flight attendant.

The "American Taliban" John Phillip Walker Lindh, 20 -- who gave his name in Afghanistan as Abdul Hamid -- was in the custody of U.S. forces after being captured with Taliban troops and al-Qaida fighters, late in 2001. Lindh spent his teen-age years in the wooded, hilly town of Fairfax, north of San Francisco, California, ten miles from Novato. He converted to Islam at 16, and his parents were surprised to discover he was fighting for the Taliban.

The FBI's Bolds dismissed earlier broadcast reports that the California teen was planning to crash the plane into a "Hannah Montana" concert in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Dismissed does not mean incorrect or non-factual, please note.

Earlier reports from CNN and People Magazine gave details of the projected plan.

The airliner reportedly was suppose to be crashed into the "Hannah Montana" concert performing on Friday, January 25, 2008, in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the Lafayette Cajundome. (See elsewhere for more on the twilight language linked to the "Fayette Factor," including the recent death of Heath Ledger.)

Hannah Cyrus

The plot thickens.

There is no "Hannah Montana," however, as that is a character created for a television series by the Disney Corporation. "Hannah Montana" is played by Miley Cyrus, who is a singer. Miley Cyrus, whose real name is Destiny Hope Cyrus, is the daughter of singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

It gets stranger.

In January 2008, a video surfaced on Youtube which showed Miley Cyrus perfoming as Hannah Montana on her Best of Both Worlds Tour. The video shows Hannah being ushered off the stage via a trap door and being replaced by another girl who is dressed like her. The body-double holds the microphone and lip-syncs the rest of the song. Cyrus' publicist claimed that the video was not fake and confirmed that the body double was actually being used throughout the tour.

According to CNN and Fox News reports of January 11, 2008, the public relation firm representing Cyrus stated:

"....a body double appears approximately one to two minutes prior to the end of the song in order to allow Miley to remove the Hannah wig and costume and transform into Miley for her solo set. Other than during this very brief transitional moment in the show, Miley performs live during the entirety of both the Hannah and Miley segments of the concert."

What is the back story to this young hijacker's pain and plan? Who is he (an answer probably not to be revealed)? Why was the Lafayette crash plot so quickly dismissed?


The target? The Lafayette Cajundome.

Dark Deaths Engulf Wales

The Welsh countryside is being visited by dampness, darkness, and death. The spirit and happiness of youthful hope is being snuffed out.

When I wrote my book Suicide Clusters for Faber and Faber (Boston and London) in 1987, few people accepted the reality that suicides clustered. By the time The Copycat Effect came out in 2004, it was taken for granted that suicide clusters existed and do happen.

This week the media began to report on a highly active cluster happening in Wales, in and around Bridgend, a former coal mining community of 40,000, and today the site of a well-known prison.

The death toll went to seven with the latest suicide occurring this Wednesday, when Natasha Randall died by hanging.

In addition to Randall, six men between the ages of 17 and 27 have also been found dead in the area. Authorities have ruled three of the cases to be suicides; the others are under investigation, but suicide is suspected. [See the update at the end, regarding a possible new count of 13 deaths by suicide.]

Let me be clear. From reading about how they all have died, I would say that all seven are suicidal deaths.

Read for yourself, how these associates and friends killed themselves:

Dale Crole, 18, hanged himself at the Coney Beach funfair at Porthcawl, near Bridgend, January 2007;

David Dilling, 19, a former classmate of Dale from Pyle, near Bridgend, hanged himself, February 2007;

Thomas Davies, 20, who had been at school with both Dale and David, found hanged from a tree in David’s home village two days before his funeral, February 2007;

Zachery Barnes, 17, of Wildmill, Bridgend, a friend of Thomas’s family, hanged with washing line, August 2007;

Liam Clarke, 20, a friend of Dale, found hanged in a park in Bridgend, December 2007;

Gareth Morgan, 27, who knew Liam, found hanged in his bedroom, January 2008; and

Natasha Randall, 17, of Blaengarw, Bridgend, a close friend of Liam, hanged herself in her bedroom, January 2008.

The common method hanging unites these deaths in the cluster.

Near Bridgend, from my research, clustering has happened before. In 2003, the Bridgend Samaritans group wanted to put signs at a south Wales beauty spot to persuade suicidal people to call them. Southerndown Cliffs near Ogmore in the Vale of Glamorgan had become a notorious suicide spot, with nine deaths since December 2000. That translates into a cluster of nine jumping deaths between December of 2000 and May 2003 ~ nine deaths in 18 months.

In 2006, the media quoted Philip Walters, the coroner, as saying he was "desperately concerned" about the number of young men dying by suicide in his area (Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil). Over an 11-month period in 2006, he said he dealt with nearly one case of suicide per week for men under 30. (If he actually said that, the new 2007-2008 cluster in Bridgend should be no surprise to him.)

In the midst of the 2006 events, a widely reported story was of a Swansea Institute computer student Geraint Banks-Wilkinson, 20, from Nantymoel, who died by hanging on January 13, 2006. His death seemed directly related to his worries about an overdraft at his bank, the Bridgend branch of HSBC. Mr. Banks-Wilkinson's father, Geoff, a prison officer, said of the bank: "The way they treated him was appalling."

Bridgend appears to be one of those communities that has a historical predisposition to clustering and contagion, where suicide is seen as an option for "coping" among vulnerable and hopeless youth.

Now the deaths in Bridgend are front-page news stories worldwide and people are looking to blame someone or something.
"People are saying it might be some sort of cult, but we don't know," said Luke Wills, 25. "There is something amiss, but we don't know what."

Even speculation about a "pact" has been floated about.

"It's nothing like that. What people are saying is not true," said Alicia Johns, a friend of 17-year-old Natasha Randall, who was found dead last week.

"People get down and they do it," she added, saying the young people acted on their own and were not influenced by others. "It's all from the same group, I knew these people."

But this suicide cluster is probably merely being pushed along by the copycat effect, in which the model for suicide among impulsive, action-driven, forlorn youth has now been placed in front of them in an area that has turned grim in a downward economy reinforced in the nearly perpetual damp mists that shroud Bridgend in the long winter months. The darkness of despair can run deep. One need not blame cults, pacts, video games, the internet, or even the media. The gloom is like the fog surrounding one at night in Bridgend, and for many, the modeling of past suicides shout out from those Welsh nights.

Remember, if you live in Wales, don't forget to keep talking to each other and help each other through these dark times.

~ UK Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 and ~

Update: Senior detectives investigating a spate of young suicides in south Wales over the past year are to re-examine the files of 13 deaths in the area - including four cases that are officially closed. South Wales police issued a statement saying: "We will be reviewing a number of cases of sudden deaths in the Bridgend area as part of the investigation process. At this stage, we can't confirm the number or further detail."

According to other sources, among the cases are five involving people aged between 21 and 27, three 20-year-olds, two 19-year-olds, an 18-year-old and two 17-year-olds. All are apparently unexplained and were within the space of a few miles.

Bridgend past

Bridgend, Wales, in calmer days.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ledger's Lafayette

ledger joker

Musing on the Twilight Language.

Sometimes, I must blog about the Fortean and the anomalistic, as it applies to current events.

In the classification of fairies, Celtic folklore discusses the good and the bad fairies. Sometimes, the fairypath leads to many unfolding dark clown revelations.

Two of the most prominent categories, derived from Scottish folklore, are the division into the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. William Butler Yeats, in Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, further divided them into the Trooping Fairies and the Solitary Fairies. These categories are generally applied to any fairy-type creature, from elves, pixies and brownies to ogres and giants. ~ as noted in "Classification of Fairies" in Wikipedia.


Of course, you can take or leave my thoughts on the twilight language. But sometimes it can reveal an intriguing stream of consciousness or a quicksand of foggy thoughts, I suppose.

Fairies, for example, link events and places with a sense of wonder and mystery; indeed, fairies and fairylands often are the twilight language captured in monikers and on the landscape. I have written extensively about the links within the "Fayette Factor."

"Lafayette" translates into "the little fairy" or "the little enchantment."

LaFayette Ford

Now, take, for instance, the death of Heath Ledger. Hardly anomalistic, one would think, although the media is making it more mysterious, everyday. What first jumped out at me was the location where Ledger lived and died.

Heath Ledger was found in his fourth-floor apartment at 421 Broome Street, between Crosby and Lafayette Streets in SoHo, New York City, on the first Full Moon of 2008, on January 22 (1 + 22 = 23). Perhaps a minor detail, one to be overlooked and forgotten. Or not.

Broome Street was named after John Broome, who fought in the Revolutionary War and was Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1804 to 1810. Another John Broome (1913 - 1999), a writer for DC Comics, wrote several Batman comics featuring the Joker. A homage to Broome and artist Gil Kane appears in the novel In Darkest Night, an intriguing title considering the title of the new Batman film.

Heath Ledger, who was well-known for many of his acting roles, played the role of The Joker in the forthcoming Batman installment, The Dark Knight, set to be released during the summer of 2008. (Several of Ledger's characters, such as in the two Terry Gilliam-directed films, The Brothers Grimm and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, have been edgy and Fortean.)

ledger joker long

Ledger's The Joker is based on the first two appearances of Joker in the Batman comic books, as well as The Joker's portrayal in the graphic novel The Killing Joke. Ah, the Phantom Clown brought to life, to meet death.

To prepare for the role, Heath Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month researching the character and developing his performance. Ledger claimed he was basing his characterization upon Sid Vicious and the charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange (1971).


Ledger found the role extremely difficult, and suffered insomnia as a result, leading to his use of sleeping pills.

Ledger's family is placing heavy pressure on the New York Police Department and the media to not discuss suicide with regard to Heath Ledger's death. Perhaps it was an accident, whatever that is. Certainly, suicide notes are only found in 20% of all self-inflicted deaths, so the lack of a note is an indication of nothing.

For now, and perchance for always, Heath Ledger, who soon will be remembered for his role as the death-clown, The Joker, died mysteriously.

ledger joker knife

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Artificial Intelligence Suicides

Did HAL 9000 go nuts and try to kill everyone?

Are Terminator robots evil?

Thinking about such questions was important to Chris McKinstry and Push Singh.

The similar self-inflicted deaths of Chris McKinstry who created a database called Mindpixel, and Push Singh who was responsible for a database called Open Mind Common Sense has left many unanswered questions in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community. McKinstry died in Chile and Singh died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

David Kushner has written a remarkably detailed new essay in Wired, entitled "Two AI Pioneers. Two Bizarre Suicides. What Really Happened?" about the mystery surrounding their lives and suicides. (Thanks to Patrick Huyghe for bringing this interesting article to my attention.)

In 2006, the two AI genuises killed themselves using an unusual but almost identical method.

McKinstry had unhooked the gas line from his stove and connected it to a bag sealed around his head. He was dead at the age of 38, with January 23, 2006, declared as his death date. Four weeks after Chris McKinstry died by suicide, the police were dispatched to an apartment at 1010 Massachusetts Avenue near MIT. Inside, they found the 33-year-old Singh. He had connected a hose from a tank of helium gas to a bag taped around his head. He was dead, as of February 28, 2006.

Kushner's article notes:

Amid the grieving, there were whispers about the striking parallels between Singh's and McKinstry's lives and deaths. Some wondered whether there could have been a suicide pact or, at the very least, copycat behavior. Tim Chklovski, a collaborator with Singh on Open Mind, suggests that perhaps McKinstry's suicide had inspired Singh. "It's possible that he gave Push some bad ideas," he says. (The rumors are likely to begin again: The fact that Singh committed suicide in nearly the same way McKinstry did has not been reported or widely known until this writing.)

Details have not been forthcoming from MIT. After initial reports in the media of an "apparent suicide" by Singh, a shroud of secrecy descended. [Pioneering AI researcher Marvin] Minsky and others in the department declined to be interviewed for this article. The school has long been skittish about the topic of suicide.

The Spooky Paradigm blog has pointed out ( that the AI suicides of McKinstry-Singh are close to the plot of an X-Files episode. I dug a little deeper in that direction, to investigate the overlaps with the method imagery of McKinstry and Singh dying with the bags over their heads (which, of course, has reflective alignments to the Heaven's Gate suicides too) and that sci-fi narrative.

Regarding the X-Files link, here is a summary of the episode in question:

X-Files, Season 5, Episode 11: "KillSwitch"
Original Air Date: 15 February 1998
Two U.S. marshals, several street-level criminals, and a computer software pioneer (Donald Gelman) are all casualties of a bizarre diner shoot-out in the middle of the night. The Lone Gunmen help Mulder and Scully track down Invisigoth, a computer hacker who knew Gelman. She informs them about an artificial intelligence program created by Gelman that has deadly intentions. The only way to stop it is to feed it the "kill switch", a CD containing a neutralizing virus.

The episode was written by William Gibson and Tom Maddox. Gibson is the author of Neuromancer (1984) and its sequels Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), generally considered the definitive works of the "cyberpunk" science-fiction subgenre. I find that Gibson's novel Neuromancer earned him a Nebula Award, a Hugo Award and the Philip K. Dick award - the "Holy Trinity" of science-fiction writing. Maddox is the acclaimed author of Halo.

Tom Maddox has placed the entire script of "KillSwitch" online here.

The construction of a sentient artificial intelligence, a computer program with its own consciousness is the root of this X-Files episode.

In the plot of "KillSwitch," as it concludes, two of the human computer genuises (and at one point Fox Mulder) are found with their heads encased in virtual reality masks. At the end of the show, it is revealed that their consciousness is allegedly uploaded through the computers and may have joined the AI.

I wonder what the impact of this new knowledge about the methods of their suicides will have on their AI peers? The mirror image of their deaths appears to go beyond coincidence. Will the McKinstry-Singh suicides be the models for future AI deaths?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

PA School Stabbings

The trenchcoat, propane, and various other hints align this incident as another Columbine death cult copycat. The individual involved wrote his note as if he would not survive the event.

The Associated Press is detailing this school incident of January 9, 2008, thusly:

Pa. Students Jump Attacker; 3 Stabbed

Associated Press Writer

READING, Pa. (AP) -- Eighth-grader Tim Hauck said he knew by the enraged look on his friend's face that the other teenager meant to hurt as many people as he could.

The 13-year-old, wearing a dark trench coat and listening to his MP3 player, burst into an English class Wednesday morning and began slashing at students with a knife, flipping desks, throwing books and lighting firecrackers.

Police said he had come to school with a propane torch, gasoline and lantern fluid, and left a note for his mother that said: "Mom, I'm so sorry. I love you. Goodbye."

Three students suffered relatively minor stab wounds in the attack at Antietam Middle-Senior High School, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

"You looked at his face, you could tell he was going to do what he was going to do," Hauck said. "He really wanted to hurt people."

Police were stationed at the school as students arrived Thursday. Only one entrance was open, and police searched every student with a handheld metal detector.

Police said students tried to subdue their classmate after he starting attacking people Wednesday, and school officials ultimately stopped him. The suspect, whose name was widely circulated by students but not confirmed by police, is expected to face juvenile charges that have yet to be determined.

"As a parent, as an officer, I would be very proud of what those students did," Berks Regional Police Officer Raymond Serafin said.

Hauck, 14, said he got behind a teacher's desk and asked the attacker, "Why do you want to hurt me? I'm your friend," and the suspect replied, "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to kill you." Hauck said he then ran out of the classroom and yelled for help.

Principal James Snyder and a teacher confronted the suspect in a hallway after the initial assault, and talked to him for about 15 minutes, trying to calm him and persuade him to go to the cafeteria or Snyder's office.

"He was mad at a lot of people and a lot of things, and the school," Snyder said.

When it appeared the boy was unwilling to surrender, another teacher, English instructor David Kase, walked up behind him and swatted his arm, knocking the propane torch from his hand, Snyder said.

"We pushed him to the wall and kept him to a confined area so he wasn't going anywhere," Snyder said.

The school was evacuated shortly after the attack. All three victims were treated at a hospital and released.

The school in Lower Alsace Township, which enrolls 540 students, will reopen Thursday with counselors and law enforcement on hand to talk to students and parents.