Kevin Whitrick logged on to an internet chat room and announced that he was going to commit suicide. He then switched on his webcam, stood on a chair, smashed through his ceiling to expose a joist, tied a rope around his neck and hanged himself.
Several visitors to the site thought that it was a hoax and egged him on, but one dialled 999. By the time police arrived at his flat, he was dead. The case is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain.
Friends of the 42-year-old electrical engineer said that he had become lonely and depressed since splitting from his wife and had started drinking heavily. He had also suffered serious injuries in a car accident last year and was distraught at the loss of his father, who had died from a heart attack.
Mr Whitrick is believed to have set up a chat room, Kels Friendly Chat, at paltalk.com and was logged on with about 50 other users to an “insult” chat room where people “have a go at each other”.
Visitors to the site said that they thought he was joking when he told them of his suicide plan. One said: “He tied a rope around an uncovered ceiling joist and stood on the chair as he tied the rope around his neck. Some of us chat-room users, talking to Kevin over text chat, microphones and video, tried to convince him to stop, but others egged him on, telling him to get on with it.
“We just couldn’t believe he was doing it – it was surreal. One chatter said, ‘F***ing do it, get on with it, get it round your neck. For f***’s sake, he can’t even do this properly.’ ” Another visitor to the site who did not wish to be named said: “When Kevin stepped off the chair and was left dangling, the mood in the chat room changed and people began to realise what they had seen. I think someone contacted the police, but sadly no one could get to him in time.”
Moderators then closed the feed from his webcam.
Mr Whitrick lived alone in a small flat on an estate in Wellington, near Telford, Shropshire. His former wife, Paula, and their 12-year-old twins live in less than a mile away.
Police said that an internet surfer alerted them to the suicide on late Wednesday. Officers broke into Mr Whitrick’s flat but, despite attempts to revive him, he was declared dead just after 11.15pm. There were tributes to him in the chat room yesterday under the heading “RIP Kevin”. One, from icemaiden 71, said: “I’m a mate of his and I’m shocked.” But another posting said: “I’m on the phone to the News of the World. I’m going to make a buck on this.”
Mr Whitrick’s former wife said in a statement: “Kevin was a loving father and family man. He was the life and soul of the party and an extremely considerate and kind person. He will be so sadly missed by us all.
“Unfortunately Kevin had a serious car accident in 2006 and he never fully recovered.”
Mr Whitrick was the brother of Mal Whitrick, an associate director and sponsor of Shrewsbury Town Football Club. They worked together at the family firm, RMW electrical services. Mal Whitrick was understood to be returning from holiday in India yesterday. Sharon Atwal, who works in a corner shop opposite Mr Whitrick’s flat, described him as “subdued” when she saw him on the night he died. She said: “Every night he’d take eight cans of Boddingtons bitter from the fridge and restock it with the cans from the shelf. He always seemed quite cheerful. On Wednesday night, though, he didn’t seem himself and it was the first night that he did not restock the fridge. It was as if he knew he wouldn’t be coming back.
“He always struck me as very happy. He was friendly and had two perfect kids. I cannot believe he has done this.”
Police said that they were investigating. A postmortem examination was carried out yesterday.
The case appears to echo that of Brandon Vedas, 21, from Phoenix, Arizona, who committed suicide online in 2003 by overdosing on a mix of alcohol and prescription medication. Some people in the chat room egged him on while others tried desperately to find his address.
Paltalk is the world’s largest online video chat community with more than four million members visiting chat rooms that allow them to see, hear and text each other.