You probably read about it or saw it on television, but let me refresh your memory. I know quite a bit about it because I reported on the incident for Associated Press. The continuing mystery knocked the twentieth anniversary of Kennedy Jr’s supposed tragedy, and the civil war in the reconsolidated Soviet Union, out of the news for awhile. My reporting really made my career. Fortunately I had been AP’s obituary guy, with a special interest in suicides. I had done think pieces about causes and frequency and high profile analyses of celebrity cases. I’d like to think that I know more about suicides than the so-called “experts”. My biggest year before the elevator case was the year when both Sean Penn and Penn Jillette did it. I consider that my Penn-ultimate accomplishment ha-ha. I think that I even got people to cry over Dennis Rodman when he did himself in. I had my own talk show for two years. I didn’t last too long, but my initial ratings were at least enough to get one of the talk show hacks off the air. The country should be grateful to me for that if nothing else. Even now I’ve got several offers for syndicated radio programs and I may make it back to TV.
By the way, thanks for the drink. I’ve got awhile to kill before flying to CBS headquarters.
Five hundred people committed suicide in elevators in 50 countries on 5 continents at 5PM local time. Initially there was no common thread even though most had some sort of statement on his or her person. Some stats:
283 male / 217 female.
Of the 156 American suicides there were 106 Caucasians, 21 Hispanics, 18 Negroes, 9 Asian Americans and 2 Native Americans – in other words the demographics roughly match America.
88 Non Russian Europeans, 20 Russians, 103 Asians, 25 Australians, 65 Africans and 43 Non US North or South Americans.
The age distribution skewed both young and old – 182 were under 19 and 153 were over 64. The middle aged only contributed 165 many fewer than would be expected in a random draw.
As might be expected the suicides had a high incidence of physical and mental illness. 128 had been diagnosed as mentally ill – schizoid, bipolar or depressed and 165 had less than a year to live.
As would be unexpected the economic status of the victims was pretty high. There were no homeless. It is difficult to calculate an average income for those outside America given the different currencies and income reporting, but the overall victim income seems consistent with the American average of $57,562.
The individual cases were all over the place:
The 18 year old Algerian Ahmed Ali who died for a secular government.
The 19 year old Oregonian Doug Ivy with acne.
The 65 year old Quebecer who urged French to be adopted as the universal language.
54 year old Republican senator from South Carolina Grant Holmes married three times who didn’t want to be outed.
15 year old Caucasian Australian Jimmy Sanders who died to promote ousting Euro Australians from Australia.
Prominent 75 year old Chinese Communist Wen Wang who admitted to living a lie all his life – he entered politics to get a good car.
33 year old Frenchwoman Marie Simone with ovarian cancer.
Their notes ranged from the short and direct “I hurt” to the rambling “I die for my country, I die for Islam, I die for the future. No one knows the anger I have. No one outside of Samolar [an extreme religious group with less than a thousand adherents] knows what I feel. I die that millions should live. I die for the hungry. I die for the oppressed. All should die or no one should die. History will record this day as important as the messenger’s birth. From this date all will change.”
The methods used for death were diverse. Most used guns, but some took fast acting poisons such as cyanide. The elevators varied from rickety antiques to glassy wonders outside beautiful resort and hotel buildings. There was no attempt to kill any bystanders. One man in Morocco died of a heart attack during the excitement. Several people were injured in trying to get out of the elevators.
In short there is no immediate, obvious central theme to the suicides. They were obviously organized since the common circumstances were beyond coincidence. One may infer that they were willing to kill themselves and wanted publicity. An ordinary solitary suicide gets noticed only locally unless someone famous is involved. These people should have known that 500 people committing suicide under identical circumstances would get world wide press and the individuals involved could all be famous or notorious.
No connection could be made between most of the victims. At most a connection to one other party could be made in the case of a couple of Right to Life crusaders. No correspondence between suiciders could be found.
I have a theory that I was not allowed to report on. I think that the group was organized by email. My problem is that I could not establish any evidence other than that all of them had access to computers. Without evidence – and I think because of the fear that there would be copycat situations – my editor would not let me put my theory in writing.
I don’t think this group came together on their own. Someone got them started and told them the rules.
Two things that I wonder about the organizer. Did he / she kill himself / herself? I don’t think so, since none of the dead claimed credit and each one wanted either notoriety or maximum publicity for his or her purpose. Second, what did the organizer have to gain?
Thanks for listening. I’ve never seen someone so interested in my work on this story before.
I guess we’ll never know some of the answers, but I have my suspicions. Thanks
for the drinks, I’ve got a plane to catch.
Appeared in Yellow Mama and Insert