When 18-year-old Mattapoisett native Conrad Roy committed suicide in 2014, encouraged by his girlfriend Michelle Carter, the focus of the media coverage and high-profile trial that followed was on the young Plainville woman accused of manslaughter.
But his mother Lynn Roy and a pair of Massachusetts legislators put the spotlight back on the victim this week with the announcement of “Conrad’s Law.” The bill would make convincing or manipulating someone into committing suicide a crime punishable by jail time, with a maximum sentence of five years, the Herald’s Stefan Geller reported.
It was a powerful moment for Lynn Roy, who told State House News Service she hoped the bill would save lives.
“Before my son passed, I was excited about so much,” Lynn Roy said. But since then, “I’ve never said I’m freaking excited about anything until last week, when I was told that it was going to be here, and yes, I’m so freaking excited. My heart is so full, and I’m so proud of my son.”
After Carter was convicted in 2017, the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the charges against her violated free speech protections.
“There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to encourage someone, or even to persuade someone, to commit suicide. Yet Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words,” the Massachusetts ACLU said in a statement.
The case, noted Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster, the bill’s co-sponsor, “exposed a major gap in our law that we need to fix.”
Co-sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover said the bill offers “a better way to address such scenarios than by using a charge of manslaughter.” He said that the 2018 suicide of bullied Lowell teen Anna Aslanian also underscored the need for the bill.
It would be great if such laws were not needed, but thanks in part to malicious misuse of social media to inflict emotional pain on the unwary and vulnerable, that ship has sailed.
And it isn’t just cruel, cyberbullying teens inflict damage. In 2007, the case of Megan Meier hit national headlines when the 13-year-old Missouri girl, who suffered from attention deficit disorder and fought depression, committed suicide after being “dumped” by Josh, an online admirer. One of his final messages to her: “You are a bad person and everybody hates you. … The world would be a better place without you.”
Josh turned out to be the mother of one of Megan’s friends, who created a fake MySpace account and posed as the boy as a “joke.”
No parent should have to bury their child, but the pain of knowing their child’s death, though by their own hand, was spurred on by social media taunts and tirades must be unimaginable. The teen years are difficult to navigate, and for those with emotional issues and/or mental health disorders, they are particularly distressing. The National Institute of Mental Health places suicide as the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.
Society, unfortunately, can’t protect the vulnerable from thoughtless or malignant exchanges on social media — but legislation, such as Conrad’s Law, is a major step in the right direction.
When people lack a moral compass, the deterrent of prison time will have to suffice.