Tag Archives: suicide

Record of the Dead for November 2010

Trigger warning for discussion of murder and abuse of people with disabilities. This month’s list also includes disabled people who were victims of sex-based crimes before their deaths.

This list of November media reports about people with disabilities murdered or dying under strange circumstances is presented without commentary, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing people may want to discuss about it in comments. I do not believe for a moment that this list is complete. It is sorted alphabetically by last name. Almost all links are to news reports.

“Amanda” (unidentified by any other name; police have not released her name), 23, back injuries that required a walker to get around, Flint, Michigan, November 16. “Someone had hit her with a car, and left her to die.”

Cynthia Burns, 58, stroke and undefined physical disabilities, Wylie, Texas, April 2009. “The 5-foot-5 woman weighed 54 pounds when she died.”

Thomas Boyle, two broken hips, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 17. Died in a house fire.

Cynthia Cline, 51, “mentally disabled”, East Liverpool, Ohio, November 13. She was stabbed once in the abdomen by her boyfriend.

Antonio Quinton Clarke, 15, learning disabilities, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 25, 2007. “He was so badly beaten, his face was unrecognizable.” No one has been charged.

Amanda Cooper, 10, “developmentally disabled”, Los Angeles, California, November 27. “Authorities are investigating whether she was killed as part of a sexual assault.”

Laura Cummings, 23, “mentally troubled”, North Collins, Massachusettes, January 21, 2010. Her mother smothered her with a pillow; her half-brother is facing charges of sexual abuse against Laura. The prosecutor described her “depraved and horrific mistreatment of her daughter and her post-plea claims that her daughter’s misconduct led to her own death.”

Jennifer Daugherty, 30, “mentally disabled”, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, February 11, 2010. “One of Jennifer Daugherty’s alleged killers described in gruesome detail Monday how the six suspects repeatedly tortured the mentally disabled woman for 48 hours before they voted to kill her.” They killed her by “repeatedly stabbing” her for 30 minutes, then slit her throat.

Tiffany Demus, 31, “cerebral palsy and the mentality of an 8-year-old”, Arlington, Texas, sometime during the week of November 22. The only details as of this writing are that she was found dead in a park after having run away from home following a family argument.

Dawn Driver, 60, schizophrenia, affective psychosis and chronic anxiety, Leyland, UK, July 23, 2010. After receiving anti-psychotic medication, she jumped to her death in front of a train.

Loren Donn Leslie, 15, blind, Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada, November 27. Police are not releasing the cause of her death. She was found dead on the side of a rural road. Police have a friend of hers in custody.

Luella Edge, 80, “Alzheimer’s disease and was a paranoid schizophrenic”, Bellaire, Ohio, some time after April 30. She had disappeared from her retirement home 7 months ago; her remains were found in a wooded area near-by.

Lynsie Ekelund, 20, partially paralyzed, Santa Clarita Canyon, California, sometime after Feb. 17, 2001. Her murderer recently confessed to raping and strangling her on the way to a party.

Ila Gandhi, 62, schizophrenia, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, November 14. Strangled in her secured building. Her mother was also seriously injured.

Paul Harden, 25, undefined mental health condition related to PTSD, St Helens, UK, October 29. Unexplained drug overdose.

Ryan Hughes, autism, ADHD, Newcastle, Co Wicklow, Republic of Ireland, September 3, 2009. Choked to death on a latex glove while being cared for at a respite facility. His death was ruled accidental.

Tom Inglis, 22, brain damage, London, England, November 21 2008. Lethal injection of heroine administered by his mother, who barricaded the door to his room and super-glued the door closed. [More details about this case]

Joan Johnston, 57, used a mobility scooter, Scarborough, UK. The doctor who hit her vehicle in a head-on collision has been fined but not held in jail because his “contribution to society in your everyday work is extensive.” Yes, he will not get more than a fine because Joan was apparently partly responsible for her own death for being fat and having a mobility scooter in her vehicle.

Linda Lee Yee Lin, 12, “had limited use of her legs and could not walk unaided”, Singapore, date unknown, news report looks like it was sometime mid-November 2010. Found dead at the foot of a block of flats. “It is not known which floor she fell from.” [More about this case]

Clara Laird, 86, dementia, Seal Beach, California, November 21. Shot by her husband while in a nursing home.

Samuel Mason, 61, unspecified mental and physical disabilities, Jackson, Mississippi, November 16. Samuel has just died from injuries from a beating outside of his home on July 10, 2010. There are no leads in his case.

Eddie Maddick, 45, epilepsy, Millbrook, Hampshire, UK, July 28, 2001. Stomped to death.

Doug Minty, 59, “mentally challenged”, Elmvale, Ontario, June 22, 2009. Died from multiple gunshot wounds after being shot outside his mother’s home by Huronia West OPP Const. Graham Seguin.

Jeffrey Munro, 32, schizophrenia, Toronto, Ontario, November 7, 2009. He was found beaten to death in his jail cell.

Richard Steven Poccia, 60, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Napa, California, November 29. “The victim’s wife had called police for assistance at about 3 p.m., police said. Her husband was described as “possibly suicidal,” they said. … One officer Tasered the man while another shot him.”

Christy Russell, 35, wheelchair user, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, November 8. Hit and killed by an SUV in an area with no sidewalks. Another wheelchair user was killed last month in the same area. The city passed an ordinance four years ago that sidewalks should be built. [More details about this case. The video describes further details about the accident.]

Shayne Richard Sime, 42, spinal disease, Christchurch, New Zealand, June 28, 2009. Shot to death by police officers, his death has been ruled a suicide.

Levi Schaeffer, 30, schizophrenia, Thunder Bay, Ontario, June 24, 2009. Shot by a provincial police officer.

Ajit Singh, 12, autistic, London, England, February 9, 2010. His mother forced him to drink bleach, and then tried to kill herself by drinking bleach herself. Please note that the news reports indicate that Singh’s mother has been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition.

Jorene White, 59, “bedridden and suffered from debilitating arthritis”, Madison, Ohio, July 23, 2010. “Jorene died in July from blood infection caused by maggots, who laid eggs in her body.” Her husband plead guilty to reckless homicide. “The prosecutor calls the case “sad.” “She had open bed sores. The sores had gotten to the point that her body had started decomposing and then the body starts decomposing, the flies move in and lay their eggs and start to eat their flesh while she is still alive.””

Beryl Webb, 75, histrionic personality disorder, fibromyalgia, Sheffield, UK, May 14, 2010. He husband smothered her to death. He claims she wanted to commit suicide; her diary claims “Hugh dreadful. Wants me dead. Hates me because of my mobility problems.”

Unnamed 16 year old boy, undefined disabilities, but he was in a “treatment center” for people with “pervasive developmental disorders, emotional disorders, are hearing impaired or mentally impaired”, Manvel, Texas, November 5. “Restraint techniques were used to subdue the child”, death is thought to be by asphyxiation.

Institutions

Torture In US Prisons by Stephen Lendman discusses the torture of inmates in US prisons, including prisoners with disabilities. Please note this is very graphic in its descriptions.

Calls come after a report of 13 deaths of children and young adults at North Side home since 2000, Illinois. “Among the proposals: raising fines and sending cases to a medical examiner’s office. One advocate suggested that facility operators who run poor homes shouldn’t be allowed to acquire new ones. “How many dead kids are you going to get a pass on?” asked Wendy Meltzer, executive director for Illinois Citizens for Better Care.”

Supreme Court to hear California Prisons Case

On the mental health side, the examples too are, in the words of one observer, “Dickensian,” with suicides averaging one a week, and the number of preventable suicides rising dramatically.

Follow Ups

The murderer of Phillip Holmes has received a life sentence. “The judge said Mather had shown no remorse for the murder of Mr Holmes, who was described in court as a “gentle, vulnerable man””

The body of Zahra Clare Baker has been found. As of this writing police have not laid charges.

The men accused of branding swastika on a mentally-disabled Navajo man on April 22, 2010 are in court.

An inquiry into the murderer of John Williams has found the shooting was not justified.

Review: Stand Up for Mental Health

Last night I attended Stand Up For Mental Health Days on Campus, the first evening of the cross-Canada tour of Stand up for Mental Health.

I was trying to sort out a good way of summing up what Stand up for Mental Health (SMH) is, but I figure I’ll just use the description on the website:

David Granirer counsellor, stand-up comic and author of The Happy Neurotic: How Fear and Angst Can Lead to Happiness and Success, created and leads Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH). David teaches stand up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building their confidence and fighting public stigma, prejudice, and discrimination.

Our shows look at the lighter side of taking meds, seeing counsellors, getting diagnosed, and surviving the mental health system. We perform at conferences, treatment centers and psych wards in partnership with numerous mental health organizations. SMH performs in Prisons, on Military Bases and University and College Campuses, at Government, Corporate and Community fundraisers and Forums, and Most Importantly, for the General Public across Canada and the US.

SMH will be on several university campuses over the next week, so I wanted to take the opportunity to review the show in case people are trying to decide if they want to go.

Go.

While some of the jokes and routines are funnier than others (my sense of humour is a lot dryer than this sort of thing does), the whole point of them is to talk about being Actually Crazy, to humanize what Actually Crazy looks like, sounds like, and behaves like. And it is, remarkably, not like in the movies.

The performance I attended opened with the CBC documentary “Cracking Up” (unsubtitled), which covered a year in the life of the program, highlighting five people who started out afraid to even say their names and ended giving a sold-our comedy performance. The documentary manages to somehow be both hilarious and harrowing, making it clear how much of the social stigma about mental health and mental illness deeply affect those of us who live with it. The people in the documentary learn that they can be funny, that they can talk about what’s happening in their lives, that they can speak about being Crazy. At the same time, though, the audience sees that this is not all just fun and games and being silly. It’s very apparent that these are people whose lives are incredibly difficult because of both the social stigma of mental illness and the actual affects of their conditions. Many of them live in very very small spaces in what are considered dangerous areas of Vancouver. One of them disappears and attempts suicide part way through the year the documentary covers. This is not a Very Special Lesson, but a pointed commentary.

The thing that Granirer and his group does in this is talk seriously about mental health issues while surrounding them with safe and easy-to-digest humour. This isn’t the first talk I’ve gone to at University that does exactly that. Jorge Cham’s talk about Procrastination and how he developed PhD comics also uses humour as the bread in a “people in grad school kill themselves and that’s something we’d like people to avoid doing” sandwich. It’s like folks in North America need to be eased carefully in to acknowledging that short-term or life-long mental health conditions exist, and the way to help is to talk about what’s going on, and what this culture of silence and stigma actually does to people.

On the surface, SMH looks like it’s going to be a fairly simple “come out and see a bunch of crazy people talk humourously about being crazy”, but there is a very serious point to it: mental health stigma kills.

I really recommend people in the Canadian cities the tour is touching down in this week take the chance to go and see the show.

If you’re interested in supporting the program but can’t make it out to a show, consider voting for them in the PepsiRefresh Challenge (Canada), as they’re hoping to mount a larger tour next year.

How Do You Fight A Suicide Epidemic?

Content note: This post contains discussions of bullying, abuse, and suicide.

An alarming number of gay youth have committed suicide in the United States in recent weeks. There were probably more than I listed here; there tend to be disparities in what the media does and doesn’t report. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts among queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, and gay (QUILTBAG) youth are estimated at approximately one and a half to three times that of the general youth population and possibly even higher; there aren’t nearly enough studies and there’s a particular dearth of studies when it comes to trans youth and youth of colour (.pdf, sorry). My friend Kirya Traber refers to this as an ‘epidemic’ and I think that’s an appropriate word to use; if you have a population dying at a rate that stark, it’s an epidemic.

Seth Walsh was a 13 year old middle school student in California. Walsh was experiencing bullying in school, the school knew about it and did nothing, and his parents withdrew him from school, putting him on independent study. Despite not being in school, he was still bullied. He attempted to hang himself and hovered on life support for nine days before dying.

Asher Brown was 13 too, a middle school student in Texas. His parents couldn’t afford designer shoes and he was mocked for his sexuality and his clothing. On the day before his death, he was pushed down a flight of stairs at the school. His parents filed multiple claims with the school requesting action on bullying. Nothing was done. The night before he died, he seemed sad, but when his parents asked him what was wrong, he said nothing. He shot himself in the head.

Caleb Nolt was 14, a high school student in Indiana. He was a twin, and enjoyed working on building projects and baking cookies.

Billy Lucas was 15, a freshman at a high school in Indiana. Again, school officials were notified about bullying. He endured years of teasing because he was gay. On the day of his death, he started fighting back against the bullies when they harassed him in class and he was suspended for it. He hung himself in the family barn.

Harrison Chase Brown was a 15 year old Colorado high school student. He was interested in history, volunteering with local historical organisations, and he loved music and art. An organ donor, he gave his heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and a lung after his death.

Cody J. Barker was 17, a high school student in Wisconsin. He was an activist who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance at his school despite the fact that he experienced bullying for his sexual orientation. Like me, he enjoyed watching James Bond and listening to Lady Gaga.

Felix Sacco was a 17 year old high school senior in Massachusetts. A guitar player, he was described as ‘quiet’ by many people who knew him. He threw himself from an overpass.

Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old college student at Rutgers. Classmates filmed him without consent during a sexual encounter and posted the film online. He asked for help and didn’t get it; in fact, some helpful Internet commenters even suggested that his roommate was unsafe around him because he was gay. He jumped off a bridge.

Raymond Chase, 19, was a college student in Rhode Island. He was out, proud, and enjoyed Harry Potter and dancing. Despite appearing happy on the surface to many of his friends, he hung himself in his dorm room.

One school district in Minnesota has experienced seven suicides in the last year, four of which involved gay students and bullying. One of them was Justin Aaberg, 13, who hung himself in July.

These young people were all failed by the people with a responsibility to protect them. Anti-bullying campaigns repeatedly tell young people to report bullying to teachers, and tell young people who witness bullying to report it, and to speak up about it if they feel comfortable and safe doing so. In all of these cases, there were documented patterns of bullying going on, including physical assaults in some cases. Classroom disruptions. School officials were clearly aware that something was going on, and they did nothing to support the endangered students in their midst. When the core of an anti-bullying campaign is ‘report it’ and reporting it does nothing, that sends a pretty clear message to people who are experiencing bullying in schools.

Knowing that students are being abused and threatened, knowing that suicide rates are especially high among QUILTBAG youth, school districts should not be standing by. Dealing with bullying is complicated, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s clear that many of these districts provided no support for endangered youth and those youth paid a high price for it. The solution to bullying often seems to be to allow (or force) the bullied student to withdraw from school, or isolating the bullied student in other ways, rather than confronting and addressing the abusive behaviour. Or the recommendation is to suspend the bullies, which is not the right solution either.

In 1986, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

He was talking about the willful ignorance cultivated about concentration camps in the 1940s, pointing out that the same could be said about many ongoing human rights violations. The skyrocketing death rates among QUILTBAG youth in the United States are an epidemic. They are a human rights violation. They are an atrocity. They are a smear upon the already tattered reputation of the United States. For all the talk of freedom and equal protection under the law, youth cannot even be safe in schools.

We especially need to talk about violence against transgender youth and skyrocketing rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The recent suicides have gotten a great deal of press coverage, which gives me hope for having a national conversation about this issue, but it’s important to avoid leaving trans folks in the cold; like many transgender people, this is a personal issue for me. While seeking out stories for this piece, I couldn’t find any news stories specifically focused on suicide among transgender youth and it’s important to be aware that our suicides are often not reported or are reported confusingly, making it hard to raise awareness and keep accurate statistics.

Youth advocates all over the United States are working with QUILTBAG youth, and many are working directly in schools. I think we need more of them, more people creating safe spaces for endangered youth, more people calling school administrations up on the carpet for their inaction, more people creating a framework for resistance to bullying in schools. It’s clear that school districts will not change from within, and that those that do want to change have no idea about how to do it; getting more advocates into schools feels like the only concrete thing I can suggest in the face of this epidemic taking my QUILTBAG siblings.

If you’re a QUILTBAG youth in need of suicide counseling, please call the Trevor Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR

The We Got Your Back Project is a new project to reach out to QUILTBAG youth that could use some support!

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood: Choosing How to Fight Your Own Demons

The cover from the book <em>The Second Summer of the Sisterhood</em> by Ann Brashares. It is lavender with darker printed names of various cities printed faintly in the background, with the title and author name in a green swirly font on the top and bottom respectively. A pair of blue jeans , rear view, takes of most of the rest of the cover, and they have random writing all over them, and an embroidered yellow and orange swirly sunshine on the left-hand pocket.Oh, Young Adult Lit you are my Bravo Foxtrot Foxtrot.

A while back I read and reviewed Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants here. I loved it, and proceeded to immediately read the sequel, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, but neglected to write anything about it. I have come to you, dearest readers, hoping for your forgiveness, and to make up for such forgetfulness. I have recently checked the third book out of the local base library and can’t possibly read it or the other books in my “To Review for FWD” stack (YES! I really have one of those!) until I rectify this situation.

If you aren’t familiar with the series and are disinclined to read my previous post, which is just fine by me (for reals) here is a quick recap (you may skip ahead here): The Traveling Pants series is about four young women, Bridget (Bee), Carmen, Tibby, and Lena, who are best friends, and who describe themselves as so close that they forget where each of themselves ends and the other begins. They grew up together having been born all within the same seventeen days, each coming from different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different household situations (although they are all fairly securely middle-class, with at least two of the families being arguably very upper-middle, and the series is squarely hetero-normative), starting with their mothers all being best friends themselves. Their mothers drifted apart after the suicide of Bee’s mother following her long depression. The girls, however, remain close right up until their first summer apart when we first meet them, and Carmen comes into possession of the eponymous Pants at a second-hand store. The Pants help them through their first summer apart, when they learn how to be together even when apart, and that the word “friends” is stronger than many people give it credit for. They learn how to be strong for each other through the life shattering events that are part of the growing, aching, and changing from childhood into young adulthood, especially as young women.

It is amazingly poignant, as it gives us stories of four young women told from four young women’s perspectives, and that is what drew me to it initially. I have many criticisms to make of the book, and I am willing to make them and discuss them openly in comments. This book is from a cis, straight, perspective. Much of it passes the Bechdel test, as in, huge chunks of it go by passing with flying colors because it is about the parts of girls’ lives that involve shit that matters to girls/young women and women as they relate to the other women in their lives, and a lot of that, funnily enough, just doesn’t always revolve around men.

(All Together Now!)

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood returns us to these same young women, getting ready to go, once again on their separate ways, except that wasn’t the plan all along. In the beginning only Tibby had plans of going away to a summer film camp, and the other three girls were going to stay behind, getting summer jobs. But suddenly, Bee, dragging along some demons from her past, and new ones from the summer before, made an impulsive plan to go to Alabama to see her Grandmother.

It is Bee’s story that strikes at me the most. Bee, who during the last book was impulsive and active and defiant, who couldn’t sit still and had to run. Bee, who suddenly came home, and quit soccer — an activity which had been a huge part of her life since she was very young — and became quiet. Bee, who died her golden hair as dark as she could get it, and withdrew from everyone but the three other girls in the book who tried to give her the space to figure out who she needed to be at this time. Even then, we see that the impulsive and super-active, full-throttle life was Bee’s way of coping with her mother’s suicide. Bee had always thrown herself forward into life in hopes that she will outrun the sadness of that death, or so it seems to me, and each of her friends sometimes describe themselves as standing back and holding their breaths as Bee makes up her mind to go after something she wants, ready to be there and catch her, or pieces of her, when she gets it. Even Bee sometimes describes herself as running away from something by the end of the first book.

But Bridget has decided that she is going to Alabama to meed the grandmother that her father never allowed her to know — her mother’s mother. This flip of narrative interested me, notably because it is usually the mothers we hear about, distancing and holding their children from knowing their fathers’ families. This interested me, because here is a young woman telling her father that she has a right to know these people, that she has an agency outside of what he decided for her. Her father disagreed with how her grandmother wanted to handle Bridget’s mother’s depression, and he blames her in part for her death, and Bridget wants to meet her and decide for herself.

But Bridget is fighting her own depression.

[Spoilers Ahoy!]

A sexual encounter at the end of the first book has left Bridget reeling. And without my getting into the dynamics of whether or not this could be considered statutory rape or consensual teenage sex, Bridget has realized that she has to find out more about Marly, her mother, and this grandmother she hasn’t seen since she her mother died, in order to face that depression, before she engages in anymore activity that she isn’t quite ready for*.

So she decides, since no one recognizes the young woman depression has made her right now anyway, she goes to Alabama to meet Greta, her grandmother, and puts on a remarkable ruse of pretending to be a young girl looking for summer work, lying to Greta, and doing daily chores for the old woman. Through the summer she rediscovers her love of soccer, loses some weight (because weight and depression and blah blah blah!) that allows her to be able to put the magical Pants on once again, energizing her with the love of her friends, and gives her the strength to tell Greta the truth, which gives her the tools to realize that she doesn’t have to spiral into depression like her mother did…which was her greatest fear. That she would be helpless to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Bridget’s depression is written in a way that I find strikes me in the heart. Once again, I have to read parts of this book in a room away from others because I get all teary-eyed. The building relationship between Bridget and Greta is important, we get to see two women, separated by an entire generation, with a huge gap stolen by devastating depression, yet brought back together by the aftermath of that depression and a depression unique to each remaining woman. I love the way that Brashares takes the stories of four young women and weaves other women into them. And once in awhile she writes disability in a way that doesn’t break my heart. Or, it breaks my heart in a good way.

If you have read my previous post, and remember the story line about Tibby and Bailey, I have a quick note there.

Tibby goes to film camp, and makes a string of poor decisions in an effort to try to be clever and popular with the kids she thinks are important or cool. In the end, she winds up making a film about Bailey, which she gives to Bailey’s parents, but which also has the benefit of teaching her, again, a Very Special Lesson about people, continuing the idea that Bailey was always a plot device, and never a character all along. An event on the Pants, and not a person. Bailey becomes a personality trait about Tibby, and was never meant to become a person, so please feel free to discuss this as well.

Since I spent so much time discussing Bailey and Tibby in the last post I wanted to focus on Bridget in this post, although I feel that there will be more Bee to come.

*Bridget was very young and emotionally traumatized in the first book by the death of her mother. I read her as aggressively and almost destructively seeking the attention of Eric, the coach at her camp, and it was all very messy and complicated and I didn’t read any blame to be placed on any one person. That being said, Eric, as the older person, had the responsibility to stop the relationship if it was unwanted instead of allowing it to continue, being that Bridget was fifteen at the time of the encounter and he was eighteen. Some aspects of the relationship between Bridget and Eric make me uncomfortable, and some read to me as simply something I advocate for: Teenagers being allowed to discover sex on their own terms. Age of consent laws are awkward for teenagers, where the magic number between legal and illegal are literally overnight. I also wonder about the fallout of writing a character like Bridget seeking and having a sexual encounter and having such severe depression. It is just a thought.