Suzanne Gonzales first posted to the Internet message group alt.suicide.holiday on January 12, 2003. Under the heading “Why Do You Want To Die?” she wrote, “I’m bored. I am bored with life. I cannot possibly think of anything I want to do that is worth doing. I just want to sleep all day. I’m just so fucking tired and sad all the time. I cry for no reason, and I can’t help but feel that I’m bothering others with my whining. I’m sorry to everyone. It would just be best if I would go away.”
There were many responses to Suzanne’s post, most bleak and hopeless. An individual posting under the name “Small Axe” wrote in reply, “At this point in my existence I feel that I would trade all possible future happiness if I could just die right now. Life just seems so overrated.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as stereotypical adolescent self-absorption, but when “Katra” posted a note of encouragement “You can decide to be miserable, or you can decide that life can really be a hoot, especially in the spring! “What about the simple joys in life?” the atmosphere turned openly hostile. “Ariane” wrote back, “Are you people being bussed in here on a sightseeing trip or something? This place isn’t a tourist attraction. Please pack up your picnic, collect your Laura Ashley luggage, return to the Sunshine Coach and go marvel at something swell.”
But it gets worse. “Kathleen’s” reply to “Katra” was downright chilling. “A wonderful simple joy that I find in life is that more people commit suicide in the spring than any other time of year. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Getting that spring in my step all the way into not-here-anymore.”
These sorts of exchanges are typical for alt.suicide.holiday. Whenever anyone posts anything that’s meant to be hopeful or encouraging, replies spring up filled with brutal sarcasm and relentless mockery, drowning out any positive sentiment. On a later occasion, “Kathleen” wrote of another individual who dared express something positive, “Mario, you are a worthless piece of shit whose only redeemable feature is that you have a brain tumor which will hopefully kill you soon. And I don’t say that in a petty and peevish little jenwolf sort of ‘fuck off and die’ manner. I say it because I mean it. The day you wind up in a coma with metasticized cancer eating your brain will be a good day for [alt.suicide.holiday].”
This had to have been the worst possible environment for a young woman just out of high school, battling depression, and dealing with thoughts of suicide. Here was clearly a person who was looking for validation and support once she wrote with genuine self-deprecating humor, “Like numerous others on this [news group], I thought I would have a tough time fitting in here. But then I read the posts about Star Trek.” and what she found was a mass of humanity seemingly thrilled at the prospect of egging her into taking her own life.
On January 26, Suzanne wrote of the logistical questions she was mulling over. “Shall I just stay in my home? Get a hotel? I was also considering driving back to California (I am in Florida) where I grew up and doing it there. Maybe I will just take a roadtrip with my KCN and when I am tired of driving, I will stop in the middle of the country and take a nap in a hotel. Once again, leaving a BIG tip for the maid.” KCN is potassium cyanide, a potent poison. By “take a nap in a hotel,” Suzanne was referring to her plan to commit suicide by ingesting poison.
“Doug” replied to Suzanne’s post minutes later. “OK, I like this idea,” he wrote.
Less than two months later, Suzanne Gonzales lay dead in a Florida hotel room having ingested a fatal dose of potassium cyanide.
Suzanne Gonzales was clearly a very disturbed young woman, as much as I hate to haul out such a tired cliche. She was reaching out. “I just need someone to talk to, someone I can trust,” she wrote on February 5. She was desperate for a solution to her problems, but unwilling to try to find one. On February 12 she wrote, “I wish there could be some way that I could feel better without having to kill myself. There are numerous times where I believe I feel better, but then I just sink lower in a couple of days for no reason at all. However, I have not yet seen a doctor nor have I tried medications. I don’t want to.”
Suzanne went on to express her uncertainty about what she was planning to do: “I hope you don’t lose your sense of calmness as I did when I finally had the materials in my hands.” At one point, it seemed like she was looking for any pretense at all to abandon, or at least postpone, her plans. On February 13 she wrote, “From what I have found, many insurance policies let you commit suicide and your family still gets the money. You do, however, have to be enrolled in the plan for at least 2 years. Have any of you ever purchased life insurance and decided to wait it out? I think it would be a nice gesture for my family.”
That same day, Suzanne posted something that dramatically illustrates how she was seeking encouragement not from family or friends or existing sources of support, but from the Internet. “I want to talk to someone about my problems, and I hate discussing it with my friends, because it puts them in an awkward position (by friends, I mean my boyfriend and one other friend) and I don’t want to do that to them. I could post on here more, which I think I will try to. But I still have that fear of being judged by everyone (even though I know most of you are good kids.) But it would just be nice to have some feedback sometimes. I don’t think anyone I know in real life (as opposed to this? a fake life? no. but i didn’t know how else to put it. you get the picture) shares my views of suicide being okay. When I tried to express my opinions with my boyfriend, he told me that there was definitely something wrong with me and that I needed to see a doctor.”
“I want a friend in real life who will accept what I have chosen to do.”
On February 26, Suzanne saw a family practitioner as a follow-up to a visit to her university’s student counseling service. She wrote on alt.suicide.holiday that her doctor prescribed Lexapro, a common antidepressant. Five days later she wrote again of her visit. “Towards the end of the visit, she said, ‘You’re not suicidal, are you?’ I nodded my head ‘yes’. And I told her of what I have tried, the methods and how they didn’t work out. She asked me if I had any plans to try again, I was smart, I said ‘no’.” She also wrote of the side-effects she was experiencing from taking her medication, side effects that will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever taken an antidepressant. “Today is day 6 of the drug and I feel awful. I am tired even more than usual. I yawn a lot. I can’t sleep though. I wake up at ungodly hours of the morning (okay, so 8:45, but usually I don’t wake up until 10) and I can’t get back to sleep. I feel nauseous a lot and I can feel the drugs affecting my mood. That ‘fakeness’ that we can all see. I don’t want to do this anymore, but I feel like it’s the only option left.”
The other members of alt.suicide.holiday were dubious. “Starfuckers” wrote, “She probably has you on suicide watch right now. Every thing you will say is going to get analyized.” “Docktorgooodhead” was even more openly distrustful: “The fact is that you are never safe from being commited against your will once you tell them that you are suicidal. This is how psychiatrists trap you. They use the things you said to them out of context and in a way as to rob you of your ability to chose and make decisions. Once they seize control like this, they can do whatever they want to you and no one will take your complaints seriously beacsue you are mentally ill and therefore not in control of your own mind.”
On March 5, Suzanne wrote again of her experience on antidepressants and revealed that she had made a decision. “I feel like it’s getting worse and worse every day,” she wrote. “The meds aren’t working. I want to go back to sleep. But I must go to work in 30 minutes. I am in my underwear and a blanket.” She signed her message, “2 weeks.” The hint was not lost on the other members of alt.suicide.holiday. “Twilight” replied, “Is this when the bus is turning up at your stop? Mine will arrive a little after that time but not too far after. So don’t expect to be seeing this [pseudonym] around much longer.” Later that day, Suzanne revised herself. “It’s 3 weeks now. Something else came up.” There were no replies to this message.
March 6: “Day nine of the Lexapro. I leave for New York tomorrow. Any access to the tops tall buildings? Or would that be too traumatic for my boyfriend? I guess I should wait until I get to California see my family. That’s next week. Do it where I grew up. Have the home field advantage. Someone will already be taking care of my cats here in Florida.”
March 13: “I haven’t posted in about a week, that’s because I’m away on holiday. But when I return to my ‘home,’ I shall do the deed. I’ll let you all know what’s up when it comes time.”
On March 17, Suzanne wrote about the death of her grandfather who had passed away while she was on her trip. “I cried, of course, because I love my grandfather very much, he is the best. I am glad he died because he had just started to go on dialysis and he was miserable about that. He died in his sleep and I am happy for that. I feel, though, that taking my own life now would create too hard of a time on my grandmother and my father. But it needs to be done.”
Two days later, Suzanne told alt.suicide.holiday about another doctor’s visit and a change to her medication, as well as her advancing plans. “I just got back from another doctor’s appointment. This was a different woman than who I saw last time. This one was weird They upped my Lexapro to 20mg and put me on Wellbutrin. I ordered a pH meter for when I make my KCN solution (so the substance isn’t to basic it will burn my throat). That should be here in a couple of days.” She signed her message simply, “Soon.”
On March 21, Suzanne posted her second-to-last message to alt.suicide.holiday. “The sun is shining, the air is warm. It feels like such a nice day to just lie in the sun. To quote Richie Tenenbaum, ‘I am going to kill myself tomorrow.’ I’ve stopped taking my meds so I’m not happy and decide that life is worth living. I will just get down again someday. I am preventing that. Now I’m just left with writing a note. It will be tough and I am not looking forward to it. It will be particularly tough on my father as he lost his father less than a week ago. Hell, it will be tough on everyone, and I feel really bad for that.
“Eh, whatever happens, happens.”
March 22, 11:15 p.m.: “Bye everyone, see you on the other side.”
On average, eleven young Americans commit suicide every day, according to statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2002, 4,010 Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 took their own lives; one in eight deaths in that age group that year were the result of suicide. In 2002, suicide claimed the lives of more American teens than cancer, the flu, pneumonia, diabetes and diseases of the heart and lungs. Combined.
The statistics are shocking, the numbers undeniable. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young Americans. It’s a veritable epidemic. And like any epidemic, suicide has vectors of transmission. The impulse to suicide seems to spring up spontaneously, either because of dire circumstance or mental illness of one form or another. But there’s a world of difference between having thoughts of suicide and actually committing suicide. Between the adolescent despair of January and the calm, almost euphoric determination of March lay a long and difficult journey, a journey that took Suzanne Gonzales from impulse to will, to action, and beyond into death.
During a dark time in her life, a troubled girl wandered into a room filled with people who were eager to love and support her, to validate and accept her, and to encourage her to kill herself. Would Suzanne Gonzales have ended up dead if not for alt.suicide.holiday? Sure, it’s possible. Eleven young Americans kill themselves every day. But this was a girl who was already in the care of a doctor, who already had access to whatever medications were helpful to her. She easily could have gotten help if she’d been able to open up, to trust her doctor. Instead, her natural reluctance was fueled by the out-and-out paranoia of the other members of alt.suicide.holiday, members who urged her to lie to her physicians in order to keep from being subjected to some imagined persecution. Hell, this was a girl who even looked into buying life insurance as an excuse to postpone her suicide. Suzanne Gonzales didn’t intend to take her own life. She didn’t even want to take her own life. She was backed into that corner by a group of predatory monsters who posed as friends in order to fill her head with fear and loneliness.
Is what the members of alt.suicide.holiday did illegal? Probably not. Encouraging a fragile young woman to be distrustful and to go forward with her plans for suicide is monstrous, unthinkable and entirely lawful under the Constitution of the United States. But make no mistake: There is a moral price to be paid here, a price that will be paid in some way, sooner or later. Call it karma, call it divine justice, call it what-goes-around-comes-around. There’s a price, and it will be paid.
But not by Suzanne Gonzales. She already paid her price.