Ladyjustice came across this series of cases last June, originally reported in the San Diego Union Tribune. This writer hemmed and hawed… Should she, shouldn’t she? (Write about this topic). Finally coming across it again in a pile of papers on her desk last week, she decided it is too important not to discuss it as a public service!
“Suicide fad” seems like an oxymoron, for one is final and the other is fleeting. But, that’s how it has been described. This “lethal fad” goes by several names – chemical suicide, detergent suicide, terroristic suicide. However, this method has ramifications beyond one person! This method has the potential to kill others by unleashing a toxic cloud by mixing household chemicals and releasing them in an enclosed space such as a sealed automobile.
To put it in perspective, let’s follow the time line and underlying factors. Sources such as Wired.com, USA Today, the Times Leader of Pennsylvania and the San Diego Union Tribune report that this phenomenon began in Japan. Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world due to many factors, including cultural expectations, high unemployment and very long work hours. Newspaper accounts reported that in:
January through June 2008, at least 500 men, women and children took their own lives. There has also been an influx of websites in Japan and elsewhere which readily provide the vulnerable with the tools … detailed instructions!
In April 2008, an unofficial count of chemical suicides in Japan numbered 50. The mixing of various household chemicals produces hydrogen sulfide gas, which is colorless and similar to the odor of rotten eggs. When it is inhaled, it can lead to suffocation or brain damage. Bath sulfur is a chemical not found in the United States. However, insecticides have been substituted with the same result.
In May 2008,
A man in Otaru, Japan killed himself by mixing household detergents which released toxic fumes, forcing 350 people from their homes. In another case, a month prior, reportedly staying at the downtown Peninsula Tokyo hotel “gassed himself” as well as causing mass evacuation.
A farmer in Kori, Japan named Nobuya Matsuno was arrested for attempted murder of his 82 year old mother by mixing toilet bowl cleaner with moth balls. Luckily, the father caught him in the act and called the police.
A 24 year old man mixed household chemicals at home around midnight, dying but also endangering his 58 year old mother who survived. During this event 350 neighbors and waited two hours at a nearby playground for the chemicals to dissipate.
Another reported incident involved a teenaged girl who committed suicide by mixing laundry detergent with cleanser in her bathroom, which in turn, sickened 90 people.
The Japanese National Police Agency was so concerned for the potential loss of lives, that they urged internet providers to delete material from websites instructing how to mix chemicals. An internet hotline manager, who monitors and reports suspicious websites to police, stated that written descriptions included phrases such as “You can die easily and beautifully.” This country has been struggling with such occurrences for years as “like minded “individuals search the web for each other to “end their lives together.”
One of the earliest events receiving much notoriety in Japan, spawning a wave of suicides occurred when a porn star made such public threats and followed through with the act.
Migration to the United States:
In August 2009, this “lethal fad” first migrated to the United States in Pasadena, California. A 23 year old man was found dead in a shopping center. His white Volkswagen Beetle was locked with the windows rolled up. A warning sign (skull and cross bones) was posted on one of the windows. Police and firefighters were summoned and evacuated the area, while a hazardous materials crew dressed in chemical protectant suits (looking like something out of the movie “The China Syndrome’), extracted his body and cleaned up the horrendous scene.
In December 2009, chemical suicide occurred again in Bartow County, Georgia in which the victim’s body was found along with two buckets containing a yellow substance which the victim previously identified by name and a “Caution” sign. Wired.com reported that an astute University of Texas SW Medical Center emergency room MD, Dr. Paul Pope, connected the dots between the two cases!
And the trouble is… emergency first responders are trained to break open windows to rescue those in distress as per the Assistant Coordinator for Emergency Management in Forsyth County. He went on to say that a person found unconscious in a car is a fairly typical call. “Fortunately, these people left notes regarding the danger. But… eventually someone isn’t going to leave a note.” Result – the toxic release of those in close proximity can kill others instantly. First responders experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, burning sensations in the throat and nose, increased mucus and heart palpitations.
Hollywood – June 2011:
Suburban Culver City, California is an upscale area in the Hollywood hills. Despite the affluence, the poor economy shattered Ana Gutierrez’s spirit. According to police detectives, Ana, age 23 had financial problems and was unable to locate a job. (For what length of time is unknown). At some point, in her devastation, she surfed suicide chat rooms, formed a friendship with a man and decided “it was time to go.” The had a plan to “do it together.” They followed the directions to mix the lethal chemicals (6 bottle). Then they ate a meal and drank quite a bit of alcohol. The male related that “he couldn’t hold his liquor, and subsequently got sick. Reportedly, he stumbled out of the car and wandered away. Later he returned to “check on the woman, “finding her dead. He then walked to a hotel and called 9911, referring to the type of chemicals left on the note, triggering the hazmat response. Had he stayed in the car, there is no doubt he would not have survived.
As fate would have it, a series of events prevented further disaster…
a) the responding crew had performed a training regarding such hazardous chemicals the week prior;
b) the woman who succumbed had fallen out the passenger side door which meant that by the time authorities arrived on the scene, the lethal fumes had dissipated. The FBI was involved as a matter of procedure in collecting intelligence for potential criminal or terroristic acts.
Ironically, those involved in posting such dangerous information on the internet may be virtually free from prosecution, stated California Attorney, Douglas Mirrett. In order to prosecute, the internet service provider would have to be located and investigated regarding any violation of terms of service contract. HOWEVER, because they are neither encouraging or discouraging suicide, the web operations may be protected!!!
Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office reported that the Gutierrez suicide was “the third or fourth” in 12 or15 months… “One big breath and Boom. That’s it.” Nationally, there were approximately 35 cases reported at the time of the Culver City incident.
Shavertown, Pennsylvania, May 27, 2011:
Kingston Township in Luzerne County was the setting of a chemical suicide in this town of just over 7,000 people. The victim attempted suicide by mixing household chemicals, producing hydrogen sulfide which suppresses the central nervous system, often causing asphyxiation. In this specific case, the male mixed two chemicals in a cooler, lost consciousness while driving and crashed into a tree. Apparently, the mustard colored liquid was splashed over the entire passenger seat and window of the car. There was no warning for emergency medical teams in this case, as they spent hours trying to determine the nature of the gas and the reason for its use. As of July, 2011, there were four such deaths in the State of Pennsylvania.
An article from the website www.espacoacademico.com reported that within Japanese culture, suicide has been tolerated and even seen as a “morally responsible action,”especially during war time or to prevent family shame.
Hara-kiri was a social class privilege given only to samurai (warriors) in order to protect them from being killed by executioners;
Shinjuku is described as a form of suicide committed among intimate partners reserved for “commoners.” In fact, “suicide literature” arose from kabuki plays authored by script writers such as Monzoemon Chikamatsu, as far back in history as 1703;
Boshi-shinjyu refers to mother-child suicide;
Ikka-shinjyu refers to the suicide of the entire family;
In Japan, males are twice as likely to choose suicide after a divorce as compared to females. However, within the age range of 15 through 34, female suicide has been the leading cause of death according to 2009 data. Overall, statistics indicate that one person commits suicide every 15 minutes in Japan. Comparatively speaking, suicide in the United Kingdom is less common – 9 people per 100,000 while figures in the United States were 11 per 100,000 (Wikipedia).
Current day motives for suicide in Japan reportedly are attributed to unemployment caused by massive economic recession in the 1990’s, depression and social pressures. In 2007 their National Police Academy “revised the category of motives for suicide into 50 reasons,” assigning up to three reasons per suicide. Suicides attributed to losing jobs increased by 65.3%; life hardships as a reason increased by 34.3% while depression increased 7.1% in one year.
One Sad Case Come Full Circle:
An account from www.wire.com of a person doing internet research stated, “I got the idea to use hydrogen sulfide poisoning by reading of the tremendous success (for lack of a better word) that the Japanese people have had with it,” he wrote on Monday.
“It is their most common suicide method. I understand that the method smells, but I have found the stench of failure in my life as well.” When other newsgroup followers pointed out the recklessness of his plan, he gave it up as too risky to innocent bystanders. After exploring other techniques, the man announced on Wednesday that he decided he’d rather live. “With months of research I have discovered that there is no ‘easy’ or ‘painless’ or ‘quick’ way to die, he wrote, “So, from here on out I am gong to pick up the pieces of my life! Maybe you should too.” [Ladyjustice – Amen!]
You see a car in a deserted area of a parking lot and you happen to notice signs: “DANGER – DON’T OPEN THE DOOR – CALL 9 -1-1!!!”
Signs of a chemical suicide include:
- Rotten-egg smell around the car.
- Any enclosed space that can contain gas.
- If the person looks dead in the car, has locked the doors, and if the windows are taped closed.
- A car that is not running and that is parked in the open – not in the garage – and printed signs taped to the inside of the car windows. These could be biohazard signs or notes warning emergency responders of toxic gases.
This is not a spontaneous suicide. This method takes lots of planning and preparation to plan the act, secure the materials and then plot a course of action.
***Disclaimer– This blog is written for educational–informational purposes only. This writer bears no personal responsibility whatsoever for the content as reported by others nor its use by any reader currently or in the future. DRG