Public Influence: The Immortalization of an Anonymous Death

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Cover design by Andrew J. Nilsen.


Turn on the computer.

Open Twitter. Something catches your eye.

“I believe he wanted somebody to help him,” says Dylan’s mother, KathieYount. “He was looking in the crowd.”
Photos courtesy of Kathie Yount
“I believe he wanted somebody to help him,” says Dylan’s mother, KathieYount. “He was looking in the crowd.”
Photos courtesy of Kathie Yount

Man on 3rd floor ledge posing in his skivvies

A twitpic, date-stamped 3:18 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2010, shows a grainy figure, wearing nothing but blue boxer shorts, standing outside the tall arched window of an off-white brick building. More tweets roll in.

someone's standing on top of the forever 21 building downtown sf. Wowww

man trying to kill himself in Union Square. He's standing on a ledge three stories up.

Omg there's a guy standing on top of forever 21 bout to commit suicide!

wtf?!? there's a guy looking like he might jump from a ledge on market and fifth. so scary

I'm watching a guy stand on top of a building down town. He's a jumper. Jesus help him!

Refresh the page.

oh shit! he jumped! wtf!!!

Just saw a guy commit suicide off of forever 21 Omg this man just committed suicide and jumped off the building across the street from my job in downtown SF

Did I really just walk by someone jumping to his death off the Bank of America building at Powell and Market!?

Dude some one just jumped off a building by my job. Hella crazy

Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, Flickr comments, Yelp reviews of the Forever 21 store. Nearly 200 messages appear, shocked, angry, amused, detached.

I was shopping in Union Square and unfortunately witnessed this horrific sight.

I woke up this morning, and my twitter had been hacked. Then I was harassed for hours, && then saw the suicide man. Sheesh, session ::))

hadda watch a guy jump off a fourth floor ledge

Today was a strange day at work. Suicide across the street, awkward customers... Ohhh Tuesdays!

This guy clearly was waiting for help or a positive message from the crowd... They had plenty of time to stop it.

I was there and felt sickened for this man's life... wasn't sure if he wanted to jump... I feel that the crowd's actions encouraged him to jump.

The grisly photos show up on Flickr. The body ... the two policemen standing beside it ... the crowd in the background ... the craning necks of people hoping to catch a peek. Comments and views accumulate. Friends share with friends. The tale of the jumper works up the food chain of online communication, from social media to blogs to local news outlets. The images and descriptions spread like a schoolyard rumor, rippling outward from network to network.

Online, the dead man lives on. He is part meme, part current event, part campfire lore — a spectacle thrown into a virtual world filled with spectacle, a click away from "Call Me Maybe" parodies and cats who look like Hitler, dispatches from Syria and clips of people trying to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon. Permanently etched into history, he is The Man Who Jumped Off the Forever 21 Building.


A crowd gathers, absorbing foot traffic from Market Street, from the BART station down the stairs, and from the cable car turnaround. Young women carrying shopping bags, tourists holding maps and cameras, local drifters in tattered beanies and coats, commuters waiting at the bus stop, suited men on lunch break — they all trickle in. Hundreds of eyes watch the figure above them.

An ambulance arrives on the scene, and parks with its lights and engine off. Two dozen policemen stand guard, clearing out the sidewalk space directly beneath the building. Like everyone else here, the officers stare up at the ledge. Life is on pause.

Vendors selling handcrafted spoons and knit hats turn their heads for a glance. A production crew shooting a Verizon commercial has stopped filming. A group of breakdancers has turned off the boombox.

"Yo, isn't that the dude who bummed a cig off us?" one of the dancers asks his crew.

"Damn," one of them responds.

Some people look on silently, hands over mouths. A teenage girl in a sundress wipes tears from her eyes. A circle of high school-age kids debate whether a fall from that height would be fatal. A woman in a pantsuit talks into her phone, excitedly describing the scene. Others peck away at keypads. More phones pop up above the mass, angling for a snapshot. A light buzz of chatter hums along, punctuated by a shout.

"Jump!"

Heads turn, seeking out the class clown in the sea of faces. Laughter rising all around, compressed snickers and knee-slapping roars.

In between chuckles, a man in a blue button-down blurts, "He said 'Jump!'"

His female companion in black sunglasses replies with an enthusiastic cackle, "That's awful!"

The shouts come every few seconds.

"Do it already!"

"Idiot!"

A few people occasionally call "Don't do it!" But they are outnumbered.

"Stupid motherfucker!"

The shouters feed off each other, rewarded by the satisfying chorus of chuckles.

"Just do it!"

Nobody tries to stop them. Not their fellow bystanders. Not the cops.

"Jump!"

From the street 100 feet below the ledge, the man barely seems real. He is nondescript, nothing more than white skin with a mild tan, a fit build, and shaggy blond hair. He is a faceless blur. He is anonymous, but will be defined by his final act.


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48 comments
kathieyount
kathieyount

@kathieyount 

"Suicide baiting is a hate crime" is posted at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/suicide-baiting-is-a-hate-crime/

"Suicide baiting:  no kindness in the Age of Anonymous Cruelty" is posted at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/suicide-baiting-no-kindness-in-the-age-of-anonymous-cruelty/

"Do police deserve a Teflon coating?" is posted at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/do-police-deserve-a-teflon-coating/

"Judge's stand on suicide baiting" is posted at http://ipinionsyndicate.com/a-legal-justification-for-suicide-baiting/


kathieyount
kathieyount

@kathieyount 

Always, "wowwow," those who claim a suicide baiting never happened post anonymously.  We have the tapes that clearly show what happened.  How sad you are for making this post.  Prove you were there if I am wrong.  I am Kathie Yount, and I stand by everything I have written about Dylan's death.

wowwow
wowwow

OMG I was there and the incident did not seem at all to be suicide baiting. People were not cheering him on, only ONE guy yelled "jump" like 30 min before and then another yelled "stupid" AFTER he jumped. What is this? I was right in front of his building packing with a film crew. I cannot believe how things have been taken so out of proportion. This guy stepped out of his apartment twice to jump, he decided to do it, not the crowd. 

kathieyount
kathieyount

From the world of classical Rome to the skyscrapers of San Francisco, beauty often contradicts reality.  The iconic Colosseum was the emblematic symbol of decadent Rome; the beaux-arts Forever 21 building, lovely.  Yet the Colosseum was the horrific site of state-sanctioned death "games."  Will we tolerate Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, serving as an emblematic symbol for modern death games?

The Colosseum seated 50,000 for regular attendance to witness the brutal deaths of mostly anonymous souls who died as entertainment.  Hallidie Plaza had a spontaneous crowd of 1,000 to witness a suicide baiting of another anonymous victim in a modern death game.

"Rome, It Was, for the Depraved and the Keyboard Crusaders Alike" is posted at Suicide Baiting Prevention at https://www.facebook.com/SuicideBaitingCrowdPrevention?ref=ts

jessica.a.james
jessica.a.james

Dear God.... I wish I would have been there, to be the voice in the crowd begging him to stop, reaching out to him in his darkness. My husband and I have been so touched by this story as well as angered and disgusted by the inhumanity of this world, this city... our city. The city we chose to raise our children in, a city that prides itself on diversity and love. To Kathie, thank for sharing your sons story, for fighting for justice and for never giving up. I didn't know your son, but I think I speak for him when I say, thank you... you are a truly amazing mother.

dawdler
dawdler

Just as Beto Lopez found himself saved by a timely gust of wind, so Dylan Yount found himself damned by a particular configuration of a crowd of people. Our lives hang by such absurdly narrow threads, it's amazing more people don't go mad through the sheer arbitrariness of it all. Perhaps if he'd come out just a few minutes later the composition of the passers-by would have been different. Perhaps not.

Getting through to someone intent on their own demise is no doubt difficult and terrifying, but it takes a special kind of cowardice to urge such a vulnerable person to take their own life.

efrantes
efrantes

These are the sort of posers who have displaced the truly cool people of SF, they are heartless scum whose parents really should have sought out abortions.  May they all be shown as much compassion as they demonstrated here,.

FranklinC
FranklinC

Shortly after Dylan's death, I blogged about the scene at "Suicide Prevention News and Comment" (see "One Man’s Death Offers Insight into Humanity and Suicide" at http://suicidepreventioncommunity.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/one-mans-death-offers-insight-into-humanity-and-suicide/), reminding readers that suicide affects "a very precious human being … He (or she) has a family and friends and loved ones who deserve our respect and our compassion and our understanding and our support." Anyone who is affected by the suicide of a loved one, friend, or colleague can find helpful information and resources through the Suicide Grief Support Quick Reference at http://sg.sg/griefreference.

dina_butler
dina_butler

R.I.P., Dylan. You lived, and you touched others in a good way. In your heartfelt interactions with others, even in the smallest ways, you impacted their lives; thus, they live, changed for the better - even in the smallest ways - because you lived. And, in this way, you live on.

Also, my condolences to all who knew Dylan, and who will miss him. Remember him in ways that help you, help his memory, and help others.

beyonsense
beyonsense

California Penal Code Section 401 states, "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony."   There should be many videos from the scene. Find them, identify people who screamed "Jump!" and lock them up. Please!

john1936
john1936

Really good piece. Thanks for this, empathy is always a public service. Props to the graphic designer, too.

Langston
Langston

Fantastic writing. Sad story.

spinnerchick
spinnerchick

I knew Dylan. Thank you for remembering him.

happygirl2157
happygirl2157

I'm here, listening...I'm so proud of you Kathy for your strength and courage. It's a very sad world we live in, the day people no longer value the life of another human being. Thank you for keeping that love alive for future generations.    

hplovecraft
hplovecraft

Extreme version of neo-yuppie torpor... 'cosmic boredom' or existential nausea.

His childhood nurturing sounds eerily like Adam Lanza's..

brirock
brirock

Thank you so much for writing this.

kpbuckley1
kpbuckley1

Wow. This is an amazing, and heartbreaking, story. I wish it hadn't needed to have been written, but appreciate the care and effort that went into it. 

mathomas2
mathomas2

@randolph.fleming You didn't know Dylan and you have no idea what you're talking about. Talking out of your ass, and it stinks. How dare you pass judgment so callously? Where's you're humanity?

DMCO
DMCO

@randolph.fleming  

Judging from your heartless speculation I would imagine that you would have been one of the one's yelling for him to jump.

mathomas2
mathomas2

@randolph.fleming @mathomas2 For those wanting to read the blog post I wrote about witnessing Dylan's suicide:

I included a link to it in an earlier comment, but SF Weekly apparently doesn't allow people to post URLs. You can find the post at my blog. Just Google "AnimalRighter" and when you get there type "Dylan" into the Search box.

Happy New Year!

hplovecraft
hplovecraft

@mathomas2 " Just the facts ma'am..Just the facts." ( Jack Webb / Dragnet ) As a former Navy Hospital Corpsman , part of my job description was to give aid and support to people in times of crisis.. You've seen this whole event through the lense of your own ' class bias / consciousness'.. Where's your humanity when you ' bid up ' the rents on studio apartments , here in the city , when you're actually working in Mountain View ?! No prize on this round , Lance...

kathieyount
kathieyount

@randolph.fleming 

I am Kathie Yount, mother of Dylan Yount.  Would you please have the decency to quit posting on this page?

hplovecraft
hplovecraft

@vylliki @randolph.fleming  This page is one big 'Mutual Admiration Society' for Gen-X , twenty nothing trainspotters and Tenderloin nonprofit navel gazers...Oh , and you're all 'adopted'!

mathomas2
mathomas2

@randolph.fleming Considering your response, you appear to be mentally ill, and I did not realize that before. 

You truly need to get whatever mental health treatment is available to you. I do, honestly and with my whole heart, hope that you get the help you need. 

Suicide is serious. Death is serious. So is mental illness. With all sincerity, I wish you the best. Peace.

vylliki
vylliki

@randolph.fleming So you were a Navy corpsman big deal, I did three tours in Iraq. Your Navy service doesn't keep you from coming across like a real scumbag.

spinnerchick
spinnerchick

@randolph.fleming you really don't know anything about anything because the person you are talking to, mathomas2, does a lot to serve humanity, but just not in the way of war and death. I know there are trolls like you out there that just comment on articles just to stir up other commenters, but please just shut up before you twist the daggers in already a deep wound.



mathomas2
mathomas2

@randolph.fleming @mathomas2 I was there, at Forever 21, when Dylan died (%%s). I heard the people taunting him to jump and laughing as he lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood. 

I have spoken with his mother and became friends with one of his close friends from work. Several people who personally knew Dylan, and  many who witnessed his suicide, commented on my blog post. 

So what if you're a former Navy Hospital Corpsman? You didn't know Dylan. I know people who did. What "facts" do you have to support your judgments in this case? NONE. All you have are suppositions and accusations that I've supposedly "seen this whole event through the lense (sic) of (my) own 'class bias / consciousness.'" You don't even know me. So don't tell me how I'm seeing this.

Your comment remains distasteful, disrespectful and misinformed. And the fact that you think this is about winning a "prize in this round" seems self-centered. This isn't a contest and this isn't about you. This is about a man's life, and death, and showing some respect for him and those who cared about him. 

 
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