Woman, 25, Commits Suicide, Family Blames Pro-Choice Suicide Website

Shawn Shatto, a 25-year-old woman from Pennsylvania, committed suicide on May 22, 2019, after sharing her intentions on what describes itself to be a “pro-choice” website for the purpose of discussing “mental illness and suicide from the perspective of suicidal people.” Newberry Township police are currently investigating whether a criminal act occurred in relation to the death of the young woman after Shatto’s family unearthed her post on the pro-choice suicide forum.


Shatto’s Family Uncovers Pro-Choice Forum

Shawn Shatto

Facebook

According to reporters at BuzzFeed News, Newberry Township police are working in collaboration with the district attorney’s office to uncover any potential criminal statutes in Pennsylvania applicable to the case made against the website by Shatto’s family. After Shatto’s tragic passing, her family took it upon themselves to search through her phone’s history – a search that led them to the discovery of Shatto’s post on the pro-choice suicide forum. Looking deeper at Shatto’s history on the website, her family saw that members of the site had given Shatto advice on how to kill herself, as well as encouragement when Shatto posted a plan detailing her intended suicide. Screenshots of the thread that developed from Shatto’s post were taken and shared on Facebook by Shatto’s mother, Jacqueline Bieber. Bieber ostensibly did so to highlight the lack of ethicality she found in the interactions her daughter had on the website, posting on her Facebook: “She [Shatto] lost her life to darkness but she did so in a way with the HELP of darkness. I never knew she was going to a place like this or that it even existed. But I wanted to bring awareness to people.”


“I’m F*****g Terrified”

Bieber was predominantly shocked by the proliferation of comments supporting Shatto’s shared plan to kill herself, many of these comments being brief in nature and banally wishing Shatto well. Comments that were screenshot and shared on Bieber’s Facebook include, “hope it goes smoothly…good luck to you,” “wish you success,” “safe travels, and I hope you find peace,” and “goodluck. I hope your journey is peaceful.” Another forum member critiqued the logistics of Shatto’s plan but made sure to emphasize a lack of discouragement. Rather, the member was specifically responding to Shatto’s comment that, during her suicide attempt, her mom will be “just down the hall.” The member said to Shatto, “I’m not 100% this will work because your mother is down the hall. If she hears noises coming from your room, she will come in and will call an ambulance if you’re in a bad way. I’m not trying to stop you, I’m just saying.” Shatto’s last post on the forum was a heartbreaking admission of fear, writing “I’m f*****g terrified.” In an interview with BuzzFeed, Bieber made it clear that she doesn’t see pro-choice suicide forums as falling under the category of free speech but rather as agents of murder given the encouragement, support and advice given to those who are contemplating suicide.


Police Investigation

Shawn Shatto

Facebook

While Newberry Township police are investigating the specific website accessed by Shatto, they are also looking into the ways in which Shatto accessed that and potentially other pro-choice suicide websites, as well as other content Shatto engaged with via technology. Newberry Township Police Chief, Steven Lutz, told BuzzFeed that they must first authenticate the screenshots provided by Bieber as part of the larger investigation that will be looking into whether Shatto was being “coached” or “coaxed” into suicide, as well as the other potential sources from which she received her information regarding suicide in addition to the forum found by her family. Lutz told Buzzfeed, “She could have had multiple conversations on forums, apps, texts messages on her cell phone. We can’t look narrow-mindedly at a single forum.”


A Rapid Decline

Diagnosed with anxiety and depression after her first year of school at Harrisburg Area Community College where she studied science, Shatto’s obituary read: “She enjoyed science fiction and fantasy, which allowed her an escape from a world that could be cruel and damaging at times, particularly when suffering from anxiety and severe depression.” According to Bieber, however, Shatto’s mental health had been improving six months prior to her suicide. She was employed at an Amazon warehouse and mentioned plans to move out of her parents’ home and into her own apartment. But Bieber noticed a rapid decline over the two months leading up to her suicide and reflected on Shatto’s depressed and anxious behavior. Bieber reflects that Shatto was continually in her room and on her phone – time that Bieber know realizes Shatto spent on the pro-choice suicide forum, which Shatto joined in April of 2019. As predicted by the anonymous user, Bieber found Shatto shortly after her suicide, however, it was not soon enough. Working from home and realizing she hadn’t heard the usual sounds of her daughter in the house, Bieber went to check on Shatto to find her lying on her floor, cold and blue. Bieber attempted to perform CPR but to no avail, stating “I could tell looking at her face that she [was] gone.”


The Disclaimer

Shawn Shatto and Jacqueline Bieber

Facebook

Rightfully shaken Bieber has vowed to search for a way to legally remove the pro-choice suicide website from the internet. Bieber is also currently in contact with her local and state representatives discussing ways in which they can raise awareness about the dangers of such pro-choice websites. Bieber told BuzzFeed, if the website was “helping terminally ill people who were in pain, I can understand. But the people on this site are depressed and lonely. They just need help.” She continued to say, “There are children on this site — 12 and 14-year-olds — talking about suicide.” The website, however, advertises itself as pro-choice, not pro-suicide. A disclaimer on the website reads: “This is a pro-choice forum, not a pro-suicide forum. We are not a pro-suicide site, nor do we encourage anyone here to commit suicide.” The disclaimer goes on to say that all of the information shared on the website is “for educational purposes only,” and, most importantly, that the website is “not responsible for what you do with that information.” Marquis, the username of a forum administrator, wrote a post on May 28, 2019, defending the website and proclaiming that “we will not let the outrage mob get this forum taken down.” He also addressed the removal of Shatto’s thread from the website and the ban placed on her after her death, explaining that these are the forum’s rules on “Goodbye Threads.” While he included condolences for Shatto’s family, Marquis also expressed anger at the family’s “demonization of this forum” on Facebook and their claim that the forum murdered Shatto, which Marquis brushed off as “false.” Marquis clarified to BuzzFeed that to encourage suicide was against the forum’s rules and that the consequence of doing so is removal from the forum. He also emphasized the website’s existence as a “censorship-free place where people can discuss suicide without having to worry about being involuntarily committed and held against their will.”


“My Daughter Was Standing At The Edge Of A Cliff…They Just Pushed Her Over The Edge”

Regardless of the disclaimers and Marquis’s justifications of the website’s existence, the forum still serves the purpose of providing those in need of help from mental health professionals with a community encouraging the alternative of suicide. Bieber reflected on the moral character of those running the website, stating to Buzzfeed, “It’s like these people running the site are getting off on watching people die. They feed off it. It’s so disturbing.” “My daughter was standing at the edge of a cliff holding her hand out for help. Instead of someone holding her back, they just pushed her over the edge.”

Provided by BuzzFeed: “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling from the Crisis Text Line.”

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