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After teen’s online suicide is watched by many, schools chief Carvalho blasts Facebook

Naika Venant's mother: I have to bury my baby

The mother of Naika Venant, who committed suicide on Facebook Live, speaks to the media on Jan. 25, 2016.
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The mother of Naika Venant, who committed suicide on Facebook Live, speaks to the media on Jan. 25, 2016.

This story has been updated. Please see the note at the bottom of the story

Users of Facebook Live watched last Monday as Naika Venant readied herself for the end of her life.

Online viewership continued as the 14-year-old fashioned her scarf into a noose and dangled from the shower door frame, dying in the bathroom of her Miami Gardens foster home. From start to finish, the video lasted more than two hours, viewers said.

Some mocked the young girl or suggested she was perpetrating a hoax, according to six people who told the Herald they viewed either the live or archived version of the video. At least one Facebook user, in a parody reflecting his skepticism, posted a photo pretending to hang himself with a coat hanger.

“It was just disgusting,” said Antonio Gethers, a Facebook friend of Naika who said he watched the archived video before it was taken down.

What nobody did was get help to arrive — at least not until after the broadcast had completely unspooled. By then, Naika’s fate had been sealed: a series of awful mistakes led police to two incorrect addresses before they found the one where Naika had taken her life. Police found Naika in the bathroom while her foster parents slept in their beds.

While Jackson North Hospital workers tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Naika, nearly 3,000 comments amassed on the video of her suicide before it was removed.

I am deeply disturbed and angered by the suicide of this beautiful child, this gifted student from the public schools, who had a fragile existence to begin with as a foster child.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools

Eric Steel, a documentary filmmaker who released a 2006 film chronicling a year of suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, likened Naika’s death to a 21st Century version of the 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. She became a symbol of the “bystander effect” after she was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment and no one answered her screams for help until it was too late to save her.

In his film, “The Bridge,” “the most staggering footage wasn’t of people jumping,’’ he said. “It was of people who walked by, saw someone standing on the ledge, turned back, looked again, but then kept walking.

“It’s that society is not more compelled to help someone, than to watch them undo themselves.”

Naika was the second of two children in state care to die since mid-December from suicide.

Another girl, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin, died at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital on Dec. 20. She had hanged herself Dec. 15 — also with a scarf — at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. At the time of Lauryn’s hanging, she had been the subject of a pending child welfare investigation, and had been known to the Department of Children & Families since 2000, a DCF report said.

Naika’s death also was the second of three suicides to be live-streamed in less than a month: On Dec. 30, 12-year-old Katelyn Nicole Davis of Cedartown, Ga., killed herself in a 40-minute live video. The video was posted through a site called “Live.me.” Family members removed the video as soon as they were alerted to it, but copies of the suicide have been posted elsewhere, including on Facebook.

On Monday, a 33-year-old aspiring actor in Los Angeles shot himself on Facebook Live, even as police tipped off by viewers raced to save him. Suicide attempts on Facebook Live have been thwarted by viewer interventions in Thailand, Hong Kong and Ohio in recent weeks.

It’s that society is not more compelled to help someone, than to watch them undo themselves.

Eric Steele, who chronicled people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in his documentary, ‘The Bridge’

Madelyn Gould, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, said she was most “dismayed to hear that the live-stream lasted for anything more than minutes” — let alone for two hours.

The longer the video lasted, Gould said, “the more apt it is” to become viral and sensational — and to influence others to emulate Naika’s actions. Psychologists fear such suicides can become contagious.

Reacting to Naika’s death, Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools, called on Facebook and other social media giants to better protect children online from the dangers of unchecked social media use.

A clearly shaken Carvalho said the nation’s social media companies — including Instagram, Snapchat and others in addition to Facebook — are not doing nearly enough to ensure that children don’t use such platforms to broadcast suicide attempts or online bullying.

“I am literally disgusted by what I know, and what I read,” he said, referring to a story in the Miami Herald. “As a community, and as a nation, we need to do more.”

Carvalho called the suicide on the social media platorm “abhorrent and horrifying.”

According to a Facebook instructional video, had someone reported the Miami Gardens girl’s suicidal video as it was happening, the company’s continuous monitoring team would have reviewed it. The instructional video is titled “From Reporting to Supporting.”

The video describes how Facebook collaborated with top U.S. suicide-prevention organizations to come up with a detailed resource page and in-app services for posts with suicidal or self-harming content. As with regular text posts, users can “report” live video to Facebook using an option on the top corner of each post, which reminds users to contact police first. It also triggers options to message the user, reach out to a mutual friend for advice, chat with a trained counselor, call the suicide lifeline or anonymously report the post.

“It gives you a chance to engage, to save a life,” said Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, who called suicides on live video “troubling and concerning’’ but infrequent.

“A lot comes down to the general public,” he said. “We need to get everybody to understand that we all play a role in this, and these tools can help us.”

A Facebook spokesman contacted by the Herald on Wednesday night said she could not confirm at that time that the Miami Gardens suicide occurred on Facebook Live.

In a statement to the Miami Herald provided by spokeswoman Christine Chen, Facebook said the company takes seriously its responsibility to keep people safe on its site.

“Our Community Standards regulate what kinds of content can be shared on Facebook,” the statement said. “Our teams work around the clock to review content that is being reported by users, and we have systems in place to ensure that time-sensitive content is dealt with quickly.”

Carvalho, who also has been crusading against gun violence among youth, said the social media companies need to do more.

“I do believe that, with the profit margins these sites operate under, they should be making significant investment in educational awareness and programs for youth acceptance, and they should be using their assets for cyber-bullying prevention and early detection.”

The superintendent did not reserve all his ire for social media, either. He suggested Florida child welfare administrators also failed the teen, who had been in and out of foster care.

“I am deeply disturbed and angered by the suicide of this beautiful child, this gifted student from the public schools, who had a fragile existence to begin with as a foster child.”

“That should have been enough reason to support the safety net system in place to care for her and protect her.”

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of the article above, which has since been updated, used a faulty assumption to come up with the number of viewers and the duration of their viewing, both of which remain unclear.

The Herald has talked to 11 people who say they watched either the live or archived version of the video before it was taken down. Two people recalled that it had generated at least 1,000 views. Two others said they there were roughly 700 viewers at the time they were watching. But 1,000 cumulative “views” does not mean that 1,000 people watched. Some might have accessed the video multiple times, accounting for multiple views.

It is also cannot be assumed that each “view” represented someone staying with the video to the point at which she took her life. The story also made a sweeping statement that viewers mocked her, which some did, according to six of those viewers. However, it is unclear how many did that — and whether some who did might have reacted to the possibility the video was a hoax — because the video and the comments have been taken down by Facebook Live.

In August 2015, CDC and SAMSHA asked the public to create unique photos/images with 6 words on how to prevent suicide. The responses to the "1 Photo, 6 Words #VetoViolence: Suicide Prevention" request were overwhelming.

Miami Herald staff writers Carli Teproff and Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.

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