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Tempe group Zoom-bombed with suicide video also being shared on social media

Zoom meeting
Posted at 9:28 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 21:45:14-04

TEMPE, AZ — National Suicide Prevention week and month are underway, but they come at a time when a video circulating on social media shows a man dying by suicide.

The video has been re-posted and viewed on social media like Tik Tok, despite the company's attempts to take it down.

Monday night it was intentionally broadcast in a Tempe Zoom meeting regarding teen suicide, by a group that infiltrated the meeting.

"We were all kinds of shocked and stunned," said Armando Montero.

Montero, 19, is running to be a board member with the Tempe Union High School District.

"I'm mainly [running] around the issue of mental health and suicide prevention. After going through a lot of my own struggles in high school, and losing a close friend my sophomore year," he said.

On Monday, the ASU sophomore was on a Zoom call with the group Parents for Suicide Prevention. They were fundraising for the young candidate and discussing stigma, awareness, and resources.

"It was going well. Everything was going great," said Amanda Steele, who has a child in the district.

Steele and other parents were quicky shocked, saddened and scarred when a group of about seven unidentified individuals Zoom-bombed the meeting and broadcast a video of a man dying by suicide.

"We didn’t think much of it. They were kind of there, not making much noise. About halfway through the event someone shared their screen, and it was the video that is being spread around the internet of an individual taking his own life on camera," said Montero. "We tried to get them out of the zoom meeting as quickly as possible. But the other individuals on the call began to unmute and say they wanted to commit suicide themselves."

"What I witnessed was horrifying," said Steele. "And something no one wants to witness."

"We were all kind of shocked and stunned," said Montero. "It’s something that’s going to be ingrained in my mind for a while. I didn’t get much sleep last night because it something that’s hard to forget."

"It made his way into a meeting in Tempe. So, it’s not going to go away," said Nikki Kontz, Clinical Director for Teen Lifeline.

"On Sunday night, clips of a suicide that had originally been livestreamed on Facebook circulated on other platforms, including TikTok," wrote a TikTok Spokesperson in an email to ABC15.

Countless teens have watched the video - sometimes unknowingly.

"People are finding ways, unfortunately, to mask video," said Montero, referring to a bait-and-switch tactic where the video is hidden in between other clips.

"We very much worry about the contagion factor of that," said Kontz.

Kontz said it is important for parents to discuss the topic with their kids in a proactive, empathetic way.

"Be open and honest and ask, ‘Have you ever had thoughts like this before?,'" she said. "[Kids may] feel connection if they’re hurting and something like this happens. They are like, someone else out there felt, or feels, the way I do. The danger is that is it shows an example."

There is still some stigma around mental health, but Armando and others are trying to ensure the video's ripple effect is not harm, but more conversation and care.

"I think that every doctor, school, parent, and family member should be talking about it," said Steele.

That starts with talking to loved ones, family and friends and saying, 'If you need anything, I am here,'" said Montero. "It’s OK not to feel OK...to not always be happy and joyful."

Tik Tok tells ABC15 they are actively working to take down the video if it is posted and "banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips."

"If anyone in our community is struggling with thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone who is, we encourage them to seek support, and we provide access to hotlines directly from our app and in our Safety Center.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Teen Lifeline Hotline: (602) 248-8336

The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Overcoming the Stigma