This is one of those tragic stories we wish we never had to write.
Reports - and a lot of misinformation - are circulating concerning the death of a 21-year-old hardcore gamer who killed himself while talking online in a gaming forum. Surprisingly, the U.S. mainstream media hasn't picked up on the story, although it has been reported in France, Bulgaria and Australia. Friends of the victim, however, take issue with the European coverage, claiming it is inaccurate, insensitive and sensationalizes the tragedy.
The story began on the evening of January 2nd on a private forum at Metal Gear Solid: The Unofficial Site, an MGS fan site created by a Bulgarian designer but hosted in the United States. The site is known as "TUS" among devotees. One of TUS' regular users was "Kuja105", real name Mitchell Lee "Mitch" Steukerjuergen, a journalism major at Western Illinois University.
Mitch, apparently beset by financial and housing problems, posted a message with the subject line "Bye guys." He related that he could no longer go on living, had chosen a painful way to die, but would continue to post on the board as long as he could. Apparently the troubled young man had consumed a combination of anti-freeze and pills. He concluded his message with, "It was a blast knowing you guys. I'm getting kinda scared about it, so it would be great to see some good things posted."
While the Bulgarian Sofia News Agency reported that other users made fun of the dying young man, a GamePolitics review of posts in the TUS forum reveals that to be untrue. Much concern was shown as well as increasingly frantic offers to help. Some TUS users even reached Mitch by phone, advising him to call 9-1-1 and induce vomiting. The online friends of the victim are especially outraged by reports in the French AFP news service suggesting that Mitch was in live chat with a webcam turned on.
GamePolitics spoke at length with "Nitroid," an admin at TUS and an online bud who tried to help Mitch during that terrible night. Here is an edited version of the AIM log:
GP: ...sorry to hear about your friend.
Nitroid: Yeah.. We just found a message from his sister a bit ago, and we've talked to his dad some more... They're all taking it pretty hard, but are supporting our endeavor to clear this up.
GP: his sister posted on TUS?
Nitroid: No, on Digg
GP: have a link, by any chance?
GP: cool... did I understand that you spoke with him that night?
Nitroid: I spoke with Mitch over the phone, yes... Only for a short while, though, but I tried my best to convince him to get to a doctor... To my knowledge, he did with help from his roommate, and died shortly after in the hospital.
GP: was he at home or school when this happened?
Nitroid: Apartment, apparently. he went to school out of state
GP: did you know Mitch on a personal level or just via TUS?
Nitroid: I knew him for a couple years. We talked almost every day, and I originally met him through an old site that I used to run. He was one of my first moderators.
GP: this must have been pretty traumatizing for you.
Nitroid: well, we all panicked pretty fast.
GP: horrible way he chose to do it.... are you getting over it, or still too soon?
Nitroid: really, it's only now starting to register. we got a lot of unwanted drama and attention over this. all we want is for people to know that he wasn't some attention monger. he didn't kill himself over a webcam, and he wasn't trying to make a spectacle of himself.
GP: yeah, the foreign press really screwed that story up... let me ask you what games Mitch was into.. MGS series, obviously... anything else?
Nitroid: He was a big Star Wars fan... Loved Calvin & Hobbes, hence, the Calvin & Hobbes images on our tribute page... the image at the end of the tribute was his avatar... We really just wanted a quiet rememberance for him -- not some crazy gamer-slandering story.
GP: ok... and did you say there is a thread up on TUS now, like a memorial?
Nitroid: www.metalgearsolid.org ...top left
GP: okay... thx much. take care of yourself...
Nitroid: Thanks again, man. Really.
Here is the TUS tribute to Kuja105. Mitch's obituary is also available online.
May you find peace, gamer friend.