Tragedy in a Chatroom

January 12th 2003 a young College Student by the name of Brandon Vedas, age 21 died from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol. We know this happens every day and it is always sad when it does. Why is this case different than the others? Because it took place while Brandon was on his computer in a chatroom on Efnet called #shroomery. A full channel watched Brandon on his webcam take pill after pill washing it down with alcohol chasers. " I told u I was hardcore" he says to the voyeurs watching him. Some warned him to be careful. Others taunted him to go further. "That's not much," said a teenager from rural Oklahoma who calls himself Smoke2K. "Eat more. I wanna see if you survive or if you just black out."

He did give his cell phone number out in case something went wrong. Something did go wrong, terribly wrong. With his Mother in the next room Brandon slipped into a coma and died. Webcam photos show him unconscious at his computer, foam around his mouth. A girl in the channel called 911 then got scared and hung up afraid to give them any info. Others called his cell phone but the ring was not loud enough to be heard by his mother in the next room. Brandon had his computer set up to automatically shut down and lock which it did that night.

His Mother discovered him dead at 1pm the next day when he didn't "wake up" as usual. They didn't discover a whole room full of people witnessed his overdose until a week later when his computer was investigated. "It seems like the group mentality really contributed to it," said his brother, calling the transcript "disgusting." "These people treat it like somehow it's not the real world," he said. "They forget it's not just words on a screen."

Our children are already under enough peer pressure to do drugs while at school and out with their friends. Now they get more pressure from "online friends" that they don't even know and have never even met in person. There is the issue that except for the pot and the alcohol his Doctor prescribed the rest of the drugs taken by Brandon. Should a young man with a history of depression be given a combination of Klonopin, Methadone, Restoril and Inderal? Should a young man with this history and this many prescribed drugs have a computer in his room tucked away from the family? Should anyone who has a history of depression and being treated actively with prescription drugs be left alone for so long. Brandon was over the age of consent so it is very reasonable that his family did not know what he was prescribed by the doctor.

When dealing with a depressed person often the friends and families don't know the right questions to ask and instead try to keep things upbeat and happy around them. It is similar to dealing with someone that is grieving; you don't know what to say so instead you say nothing at all. Many people that are going through difficult times find it easier to talk to friends online than those in real life and in many ways this can help them deal with their troubles. They have low self-esteem anyway and tend to try and hide their depression from friends and family. Swallowing the pain is easier than facing it head on, for a while anyway. So many aspects of this scenario are just wrong. I guess what I find most disturbing is that this poor guy felt that he would be more popular by inviting his friends to watch him get stoned online. I have to wonder how the channel members feel now knowing that in some way they contributed to ending this young mans life?

Webcams are often part of the "package" now when buying new computer systems. And yes they can be a lot of fun being able to see who your talking to. I feel strongly that no child should have a computer with a webcam tucked away in their bedroom. Many cases that we receive now at Wiredpatrol are from young girls that were tricked into posing nude on their cams for men then blackmailed to send more and more explicit photos or their parents will be sent the pictures. Another favorite threat is that they will post them on the web. Children are not allowed to drive, vote, buy alcohol and cigarettes for a good reason. They lack the life knowledge and skills to make the best decision for themselves. They are easily led astray by adults online and off.

Anyone that is troubled needs support and supervision. Part of the problem was that many in this chatroom were kids and they didn't know what to do. Do they go wake their parents and tell them that they are chatting in a drug channel and some kid is overdosing?
What should they have done? Someone in the channel traced his website and although the phone number returned was fake, the address was real. Brandon's family has been told that had someone called 911 with that info combined with the cell number they could have found him. At the very least someone in the channel could track down an ircop on the server and report this. The one person that spoke to him by his cell while he was doing this reported back that although he was slurring badly he was coherent. It is troubling to me that he didn't try and get Brandon to disclose his address just in case. But this was the same person that was egging him on about not being "hardcore".

In our work with IRC we have encountered potential suicides in the past, it is very difficult to distinguish between those that are threatening for attention or those that are serious. We are not trained therapists and one does not want to make a mistake in determining if someone is serious or not. Therefore our Ops are instructed to tell the people to contact the police immediately and give them all the information they have. Our Ops also could have assisted in tracing his webcam site to give that information to the police as well.
Would Brandon Vedas have taken an overdose of drugs and alcohol if he didn't have an audience of peers to watch him and cheer him on? I would suspect the answer to that would be "no he wouldn't". He didn't intend to die; he wanted to prove how tough he was. What he proved was that he was as vulnerable as the rest of us to "being liked and accepted by our peers.

Rest in Peace Brandon, hopefully your death will not be in vain and you have helped one kid in that "pro-drug" chat room see that drugs are not the answer.

Kelley Beatty
Deputy Executive Director
WiredSafety Group

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February 18th 2003
Reproduced courtesy of the WiredSafety Editorial Database: http://www.wiredsafety.org/resources/editorial/
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