When someone commits suicide, there is a clear desperation in the act that sadly will never be fully understood as the deceased takes that knowledge with them to the grave. For the most part, suicide is a very private act, the final moments of a life spent in isolation, contemplating and ultimately enacting the unthinkable. Even if one leaves a suicide note, there are still so many unanswered questions family and friends ask; trying to piece together the motivation for such finality.
While suicide is generally a private act, there have been shocking cases of public suicide, either in the name of protest, or as an utterly horrifying gesture of using the media for shock value, that have been reported on, caught on film or in photographs, and immortalized, even glorified by the media. Many will argue the fact that because these suicides were committed so brazenly in public, the world has a right to know of them and understand the rationale behind them; in fact, those who have committed public suicide in protest would want it that way. Others will argue that by shedding light on these suicides the media is merely glorifying violence and death for shock value and exploiting those people who have committed such a desperate act in such a shocking way.
Perhaps that sensationalism is what they would want, too. However one feels, there is no editorializing in here; suicide is an extremely tragic act that ruins families and the lives of those left behind. The purpose here is solely to relay some of the most shocking public suicides committed in protest of one thing or another, or sadly, potentially merely for shock value.
10 Jodon F. Romero
FOX News may already have a reputation for sensationalism depending on what side of the political spectrum you rest on, but nobody was arguing that the news outlet didn’t go too far in September of 2012 when it aired the suicide of Jodon F. Romero on live television. Romero was involved in a high speed police chase in the Arizona desert after stealing a car in Phoenix. Already wanted on a parole violation, Romero eventually ended up off road in the desert where he got out of the stolen vehicle, pulled out a hand gun and shot himself in the head, all of which was caught on film by Fox owned news station KSAZ-TV’s live helicopter feed and aired on Fox News. While the station did apologize, explaining a mistake in the broadcast delay system, the violent car chase was still captured by video cameras, and the footage of Romero’s death was still aired, inadvertently making Jodon F. Romero’s suicide a public one.
9 Kevin Whitrick
In an extremely shocking way, Kevin Whitrick committed suicide in an anonymous fashion by broadcasting his death over the Internet. In March of 2007 the British electrical engineer, who was two years removed from a separation from his wife and adopted twins, joined an Internet chat room in which the 60 or so participants were encouraged to insult each other. At one point during the chat Whitrick stood on a chair, punched a hole in his ceiling, hung a rope from it, tied it around his neck and stepped off the chair, hanging himself. Some members of the chat thought it was a hoax, others encouraged the hanging (whether they knew it was real or thought it was a hoax is unknown). More concerned members of the chat eventually contacted the police who found Whitrick dead in his apartment near midnight.
8 Norman Morrison
There can’t be a more unimaginable way to die than to burn to death. To burn oneself to death, self-immolation is the supreme form of violence against your own body. Maybe for this reason, the extreme violence it projects, self-immolation has become a public form of protest suicide. Norman Morrison was a Quaker from Baltimore who was opposed to the Vietnam War, so much so that on November 2nd 1965 he poured kerosene on himself and lit himself on fire in front of the Pentagon to protest the “…killing that was destroying the lives of so many Vietnamese and American youth." Disturbingly, Morrison was with his daughter at the time, whom he left with a stranger gathered at the anti-war protest before he died.
7 Emily Davison
An outspoken proponent of the women’s suffrage movement in England, Emily Davison ardently fought for women’s rights for years, most often violently, which resulted in nine separate arrests as well as hunger strikes in prison. Her final act of activism was also her most controversial. On June 4, 1913 at the Epsom Derby, Davison planned on disrupting the race by running onto the track to grab the horse that was owned by King George V. As Davison ran out onto the track and to grab the horse, she and the horse collided, causing her to fall and be trampled. Emily Davison succumbed to her injuries four days later, and it was long assumed that this was an act of public protest and a suicide at a most prominent event. Modern historians contend however, that Davison was in fact merely attempting to place something on the horse for her cause rather than to commit suicide. Still, with Davison’s death, the events surrounding that day will never fully be known.
6 Malachi Ritscher
Another suicide by self-immolation, Malachi Ritscher’s death was far less noticed, or sadly cared about, than previous war protester Norman Morrison and others who took their lives in similar fashion. While Morrison’s death made the front page news, Ritscher’s act of protest over the war in Iraq went unnoticed by media outlets for almost a week. During rush hour traffic in November of 2006, Ritscher burned himself to death along the Kennedy Expressway as Chicago commuters watched. He published a lengthy suicide note on his personal website vowing that he would not live in a world where he had to pay for America’s war, and where he also wished he had killed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he had the chance. A week after his death the Chicago Sun-Times had this to say of Malachi Ritscher’s suicide:
"With all great respect, if he thought setting himself on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone's mind about the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and his most futile."
5 Dimitris Christoulas
The story of Dimitris Christoulas, a 77-year-old pensioner who committed suicide in front of the Greek Parliament in April of 2012, is an extremely tragic one. Christoulas committed suicide in protest against the programs the Greek government had enacted that essentially wiped out his pension, a pension that, according to his suicide note, he had paid into for 35 years. At the time of his death, Christoulas was in no position to pay for rent, medication or even food. Before he shot himself in the head, Dimitris Christoulas uttered these chilling last words: "I am not committing suicide, they are killing me."
4 Romas Kalanta
High school student Romas Kalanta is Lithuania’s highest profile figure to ever commit public suicide, and has become somewhat of a hero. In 1972 in protest of the Soviet regime in Lithuania, Kolantas set himself on fire in front of the very spot that the Soviet Republic of Lithuania was established in 1940. The results from Kolanta’s self-immolation were staggering; massive anti Soviet riots took place and a further 13 self-immolations happened in 1972 alone. Kolantas became a symbol of freedom and resistance during the proceeding Soviet years, until in 2000 Kolantas was awarded The Order of the Cross of Vytis, a Presidential Award given to those who have defended Lithuania’s freedom and independence.
3 Christine Chubbuck
Suicide itself can seem impossible to comprehend, but when someone commits suicide on live television, how can it ever be rationalized? Was it severe mental illness gone horrifically wrong or taking media sensationalism of death and violence to an unprecedented level? The on-air suicide of Christine Chubbuck can probably be attributed to both. The 29-year-old reporter from Florida, who worked for ABC 40 WXLT-TV and had her own talk show apparently suffered from depression and had seen a psychiatrist before her death. She was most troubled by her personal life, so much so that she decided to kill herself during a live broadcast of her talk show. Instead of beginning her show in her usual fashion, Chubbuck insisted she read a newscast first, and it was during this newscast that she stated: "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts', and in living color, you are going to see another first; attempted suicide." She then proceeded to shoot herself in the head, while the camera quickly cut to black.
2 Thich Quang Duc
Arguably the most famous case of self-immolation ever, the suicide of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc, perhaps more specifically the photographs that came from it, are some of the most famous in the world. The photograph of the Buddhist monk engulfed in flames has become a part of popular culture as well as a symbol for resistance throughout the world, being used in everything from anti-war art to album covers. Erroneously thought of as a protest to the Vietnam War, Thich Quang Duc was in fact protesting South Vietnam’s repression of the Buddhist religion. By burning himself, he was martyring himself according to the tradition of Buddhist self-immolation.
1 Robert Budd Dwyer
Maybe the most watched suicide video online (unfortunately), Robert Budd Dwyer’s death has been featured on countless websites across the Internet since he shot himself in 1987. A long serving politician in Pennsylvania, first as a State Senator and then as the Pennsylvania Treasurer, Dwyer was embroiled in a bribery scandal in the early 1980s that ultimately led to a trial and conviction, with the possibility of up to 55 years in prison. During the entire process, Dwyer maintained his innocence, even attempting to obtain a pardon from President Reagan, to no avail. The day before his sentencing hearing was to take place Dwyer called a live press conference attended by many media outlets in which many believed he would publicly resign from office. Instead, he read a prepared statement and then pulled a revolver from an envelop he was carrying and shot himself in the mouth, dying instantly. As disturbing as the live suicide was, equally as disturbing was the fact that many news stations broadcast the uncut footage over the air, some numerous times, to Pennsylvania audiences, justifying the graphic content as an important news story.