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Parents: Online newsgroup helped daughter commit suicide

Online newsgroup members trade messages about suicide desires, methods

From CNN's Thelma Gutierrez and Kim McCabe

Suzanne Gonzales
Suzanne Gonzales poses for a self-portrait photograph.

(CNN) -- Suzanne Gonzales seemed to have everything going for her.

A bubbly 19-year-old with loving parents and good friends, she was also a strong student and earned a science scholarship for college.

But everything changed one spring day two years ago, when Suzanne's parents, Mike and Mary Gonzales, received the following e-mail.

"Dear Mom, Dad, and Jennifer, I will make this short as I know. It will be hard to deal with. If you haven't heard by now, I've passed away," the e-mail read. (Watch the parents talk about their shock -- 4:15)

Alone in a Florida hotel room, just miles from her college apartment, Suzanne methodically prepared and swallowed a lethal cocktail of potassium cyanide, lay down on the bed and died.

In doing so, she joined the roughly 4,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 who commit suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among young people, the CDC reports.

But Suzanne's case has an unusual twist. She frequented an Internet newsgroup called called ASH, short for Alt.Suicide.Holiday.

Members of this news group trade advice on how to commit suicide, using code words like 'transitioning' and 'exiting' and 'catching the bus.' Suzanne found this group nine weeks before she died, posting nearly one hundred messages detailing her plans.

"My chosen method is potassium cyanide....I've stopped eating so my tummy will be nice and acidic," one of Suzanne's posts read.

Suzanne's father claims the newsgroup gave her everything she needed to kill herself.

"The knowledge, the tools, their psychological encouragement. ... She was led to her death," Mike Gonzales said.

Newsgroups like ASH work something like an online bulletin board. Anyone with a computer and some basic Internet knowledge can gain free access to thousands of messages about suicide. And they can post their own messages.

An archived section of the site called "The Methods File" contains a list of recipes, recommendations and tips on the best and worst ways to commit suicide.

Suzanne's dad believes one of those messages taught her how to illegally obtain and use cyanide to end her life. And he was horrified to learn that an older ASH member who goes by the alias "River" may have helped her.

"Suzy had me proof-read her notes and we went over all the details of her exit, just to be safe," reads one ASH message from "River."

But "River" disputes his role in Suzanne's death.

"No one in ASH encourages anyone else to commit suicide. ASH is pro-choice," he wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

"Geo" is another ASH member. He was the same age as Suzanne when he joined the group last year and thinks suicide groups like ASH actually keep people from committing suicide.

In fact, "Geo" credits ASH with saving his life.

"If it weren't for it, I think the chances of me having committing suicide would have been greater," he said. "Having a place where you can write those thoughts, get them out of your head. It can be very therapeutic."

But Suzanne's dad thinks otherwise.

"That's not pro-choice," Mike Gonzales said of the site. "That's brainwashing. And they are not being held responsible."

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