It’s a tragic instance when Internet addiction takes over. Rather than simply neglect your own health and well-being, this case put the life of a child at risk and ended it prematurely. In January of 2010, 21-year-old Alexandra V. Tobias was taking some time to herself to unwind, playing the faddish and addictive Facebook game FarmVille. She was so immersed in growing her virtual crops and feeding her virtual cows that she was deaf to the cries of her 14-week-old son, Dylan Lee Edmondson.
Soon, though, no amount of twangy country music and sound effects could block out the baby’s cries as he bawled for his mother, for food, for a clean diaper, and for love. Alexandra Tobias picked up the infant and shook him. Eventually, she ended up shaking him so hard that the baby sustained traumatic head injuries and a broken leg. He later died while being tended to in the hospital.
The media circus began, crucifying not only Tobias, but FarmVille with it. The Zynga game was said to be responsible for many a tragedy, including cases of people going bankrupt and losing their jobs playing the game. These are the 15 facts about the case that will shock you.
15. “FarmVille” Has Been Called One Of The “Worst Inventions” In Recent Decades
The addictive Facebook game that was a fad a few years ago (remember all those obnoxious invites to get in on the action?) was once called one of the “worst inventions” in recent decades by Time magazine back in 2010 (the same year the murder took place). For being a “time suck” that hardly even qualified as a game–according to Dan Fletcher who was quoted in the piece–FarmVille was skewered for simply being a collection of “mindless chores.”
Despite this scathing review that put FarmVille among the worst inventions in recent decades (alongside FourSquare, tanning beds, and spam email), at its height, the Facebook game had, at the time of the article, more than 60 million members, many of whom accessed the game through the social networking site. We don’t know how many farms Tobias was attending to, but her virtual strawberries and pigs were clearly more important to her than her living, breathing son.
14. She Was First Charged With Child Abuse
When little Dylan was first brought in to the hospital, he was still alive. The child was in a great deal of pain, having dealt several blows to his head, as well as suffering from a broken leg. But fortunately at the time, he was still alive. As a result of her actions, Tobias was first charged with aggravated child abuse, owing to the condition of her son.
At the time on a Tuesday, Tobias called the paramedics, hysterical to find that her only son wasn’t breathing. When the poor kid was brought in to the hospital, the child was in critical condition. He was declared dead the next day, the cause being “abusive head trauma,” according to his autopsy. The charge of aggravated child abuse was later changed to murder. Edmondson, the son’s father, was devastated to learn that the baby’s last moments in this world were filled with pain and agony, owing to the devastating abuse brought upon him by Tobias.
13. Dr. Phil Covered A Similar Case
In January 2010, Dr. Phil featured a similar case of a mother addicted to FarmVille on his talk show. An obsession for this woman, she played the game at all hours of the day, from when she woke up in the morning until it was late at night. The mother, whose name is Teresa, neglected her children in order to take care of her virtual farm, and the kids ended up only consuming microwaveable meals and living in filth as their mother clicked away. In order to get her “fix,” Teresa would unplug the router of the family computer and tell them the Internet was down, before quietly sneaking back on to play the game. She would also snarl at any family member who tried to take her away from the screen.
12. She And Her Partner Were Arrested For Domestic Violence
Tobias was not married to the father of her child, E.J. Edmondson, and the two were involved in a tempestuous on-again off-again relationship for years. The volatile pair was actually arrested for domestic violence only a few weeks before the death of their son!
As a result of the arrest, Tobias was given six months of probation and ordered to attend an anger management class for 30 days, and we can see how well that worked out. Edmondson was also arrested and charged. Since their son Dylan was in the home during the fight in question, the state Department of Children and Families was notified, but it was unclear according to the provided reports if they ended up getting involved in the incident. Clearly, emotional and physical stability were not a big part of their lives, and the dramatic partnership between Edmondson and Tobias could likely have been fuel for this devastating fire.
11. “FarmVille” Is Designed To Be Addictive
Made by Zynga, FarmVille is a game that was designed to be addictive to its many millions of players. After just three years of operation in 2010, Zynga was worth an estimated $5.61 billion, and FarmVille was the most popular application available on Facebook.
To ensure that players would be chomping at the bit to sow their virtual oats, Zynga actually hired a full-time behavioral psychologist whose learnings adjusted the game to accommodate users’ gaming preferences to manipulate and change FarmVille in order to make it more habit-forming; thus, more addictive. The “freemium” model of the game allowed players to play for free, unless they wanted upgrades or special items, which cost real-world cash. After playing for so long, though, it was easy for FarmVille to rope in players into spending their hard-earned money on virtual commodities. Growing the net of players via spam-like invites that allowed existing players to achieve more points was another way FarmVille increased its reach and its bank account.
10. She Was Addicted To Facebook
As part of the case that was mounted against her, screenshots of Tobias’ Facebook activity were entered into the court as evidence. Tobias used the social network actively, which further explained her addiction to the virtual world rather than the real one. Her profile was used extensively when painting a portrait of Tobias, and her Facebook profile included stating such random interests as the TV show One Tree Hill and actress Megan Fox, as well as identifying herself as both a Christian and a Republican.
Tobias even kept a profile for baby Dylan as well, with a New Year’s Day post showing that he weighed 12 pounds and stood at 22 inches tall.
However, perhaps the most shocking and horrifying aspect of Tobias’ online addiction to the social media behemoth was the fact that just a month before the death of her son, she had joined an online group that advocated against baby-shaking, which was the exact thing that caused the death of the 3-month-old.
9. She Pled Guilty
It is not unheard of for those accused of a crime to plead guilty to it in order to receive a lesser sentence. Tobias was no different. After the charges were changed from aggravated child abuse to murder following the death of her 3-month-old son, Tobias entered a plea of guilty for second-degree murder.
The Jacksonville resident was arrested and charged in January 2010, but it wasn’t until the following October that she entered a plea. Owing to her plea, Tobias faced 25 to 50 years in prison, which could be lessened, according to Prosecutor Richard Mantei since she copped to her crimes rather than attempted to plead not guilty when there was already so much evidence against her, but the judge presiding over the case offered Tobias no promises. A second-degree murder charge is punishable by lifetime imprisonment. Sentencing was scheduled for December but would not happen until February 2011.
8. There Was No Jury Trial
As a result of her guilty plea to second-degree murder, Tobias did not have to deal with a jury trial. This was a blessing for the young mother, as well as her family, because they would not be forced to relive all of the gruesome details that surrounded the death of baby Dylan.
Since those called to be on a jury must be an impartial party to what the case is about, it would have been very difficult to select from that pool since the case was covered extensively in the media. The fact that the case involved Facebook and FarmVille led it to be picked up by sites like Gawker and The Daily Beast, while it was also picked apart by Nancy Grace of CNN on her show for nearly an hour. For Edmondson, the media scrutiny was one of the worst indignities to the case. Outside the courtroom, the father was quoted as saying, “That was insulting. It wasn’t about Facebook. It was about my son.”
7. She Had A Rough Life
In order to paint a more sympathetic picture of Tobias, her defense team looked to her history–which was riddled with pain and sadness–as the possible cause for her crime. Called by friends and family a “fun-loving, albeit mischievous young child, who grew into a respectable woman,” Tobias dealt with trauma from an early age. According to a psychologist, Tobias stated that she had been r*ped at a young age and that she was devastated to find her own mother dead back in 2008.
A young woman who had planned to go to college, Tobias’ plans were put on hold upon discovering that she was pregnant, and the defense team tried to show the judge that she was a woman and young mother who was stressed and emotionally distraught. She had also taken Xanax (without a prescription) the morning of Dylan’s death, which can cause mood swings, and her late mother was diagnosed as bipolar and battling a drug addiction.
6. She Shook Him Three Times
According to reports provided by the police, Tobias was honest when she told them that she had shaken baby Dylan three times. The first of those times was when his cries interrupted her playing of FarmVille, which she said distracted and angered her. She then went outside for a cigarette to compose herself and calm down. She had lain the boy on the couch in the living room. Then, when she returned, she shook him two more times. During one of these other times, it was thought that the infant struck his head off of Tobias’ computer, which could be the result of the massive head injuries the three-month-old sustained. There was no clear indication as to what caused the broken leg that was also described in the autopsy.
5. She Took A Facebook Personality Quiz
Normally, taking a Facebook personality quiz (or a BuzzFeed personality quiz, or whatever) wouldn’t be considered shocking in the least, except for the fact that the particular quiz that Tobias took painted a darker picture of the supposedly “respectable” young mom.
One day before shaking her son to death, Tobias posted the quiz results to her Facebook page. The quiz had labeled her as bipolar (the same mental illness her deceased mother had been medically diagnosed with) and offered a grim remark that cast a shadow over the upcoming crime: “Way to go, crazy person. You are too much for any one person to handle, including yourself.” A psychologist at her trial, Stephen Bloomfield, testified as to Tobias’ likelihood of suffering from depression or perhaps the bipolar disorder that claimed her mother and was written in her Facebook quiz results, “She doesn’t seem sad, and she doesn’t seem happy,” he said.
4. She Changed Her Story Multiple Times
While Tobias later came clean about what had happened between her and her infant son and admitted to shaking him not once, not twice, but three times–with going for a smoke break in between–she initially sought to blame everyone else, including her boyfriend, his mother, and even her dog.
Initially, Tobias stated that after shaking the baby the first time, she had laid him down on the living room couch to go out for a cigarette, at which point her dog knocked him onto the floor, which might explain the more severe head injuries and the broken leg. At other times, she invoked her boyfriend as the reason why three-month-old Dylan was dead. She also told a psychologist that she blacked out during the event in order to cover up her confession to the police, but was caught in that lie via a recorded phone call she made from the jail.
3. She Thought She’d Beat The Charges
Despite the horrific evidence surrounding Dylan’s death, Tobias still believed that she would walk away a free woman. Prior to being sentenced, the young mother went about life in jail as though she were a visitor and soon to be released. A fellow inmate was quoted as saying that Tobias spent much of her time laughing and coloring. “They sit around and they just–you know, it’s like they’re in a home for girls, you know? It’s a fun time, and it’s not.” Tobias also changed her story when divulging the gruesome facts to fellow inmates, blaming her dog and her boyfriend on various occasions.
While in jail awaiting trial, Tobias also tried to strike up a romantic relationship with a male inmate. In a letter she penned to him (prosecutors intercepted it), Tobias shrugged off her son’s death saying that while he died, she was “in here for the wrong reasons.”
2. This Isn’t The First Time A Virtual Game Led To A Child’s Death
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time–and it’s unlikely to be the last–that a virtual game has had a factor in the death of a child.
Tony Lamott Bragg, Sr. first squeezed his nine-month-old son, then locked him in a utility closet for interrupting his game of EverQuest in 2000. His ribs and collarbone were fractured during the squeezing, puncturing his heart and killing him. Gregg J. Kleinmark neglected his 10-month-old twins in the bathtub so he could attend to his GameBoy. They drowned. A Korean couple in 2010 starved their three-month-old daughter to death because they were so busy taking care of a virtual child in an online game that they played in Internet cafés. In 2006, Tyrone Spellman cracked his 17-month-old daughter’s skull and killed her after she pulled down his Xbox console. Another Korean couple visited an Internet café to play World of Warcraft for hours, leaving their four-month-old child to suffocate. Finally, another EverQuest casualty was a three-year-old who was left in a hot car while mom and her boyfriend played the game.
1. She Received 50 Years
Although Alexandra Tobias pled guilty to second-degree murder and probably hoped for a lessened sentence, she ended up receiving the maximum—50 years in prison. As we mentioned earlier, it was likely to be between 25 to 50, but the prosecution opined that it might end up being less, but the judge on the case was firm in his decision. Despite being given recordings of the impassioned phone calls Tobias made to both Edmondson and 911, he was not moved. After several hours of testimony in February 2011, the judge on trial, Adrian G. Soud, offered a scathing remark to the women who was being led to the fingerprinting station with a blank look on her face: “He who is the most defenseless among us is murdered by his own mommy. And why? Because he was crying during a game of FishVille or FarmVille or whatever was going on during Facebook that time of day.” Tobias’ sentencing was at the highest end of the plea bargain that had been negotiated.
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