In Massachusetts, a teen named Michelle Carter is on trial in connection to the suicide of her boyfriend Conrad “Coco” Roy. What’s up for debate is who, exactly, is at fault for the boy’s death.
Michelle and Conrad each suffered from mental health problems, according to Marin Cogan’s in-depth look at the ongoing case for New York Magazine. Michelle sometimes made reference to a stint at the local psychiatric facility McLean Hospital to friends at school and possibly suffered from suicidal thoughts herself. Conrad also suffered from severe depression and social anxiety, and had overdosed on acetaminophen when he was 17.
As teens in love do, the pair communicated mostly through text messages, which police found the day Conrad committed suicide by carbon-monoxide poisoning in his truck in 2014. In February 2015, Michelle was indicted for involuntary manslaughter for her texts, in which she appeared to encourage Conrad to kill himself, saying that he “just [had] to do it.”
Here’s a sample of the messages the couple traded:
“How was your day?” Roy asked, in one of the exchanges.
Carter: “When are you doing it? … :) My day was okay. How was yours?”
Carter: “That’s great. What did you do?”
Roy: “Ended up going to work for a little bit and then just looked stuff up.”
Carter: “When are you gonna do it? Stop ignoring the question. ????”
Carter, when Roy hesitated, suggested he buy a generator to sped the process. When he worried about leaving his family behind, she told him they knew he loved them and would move on for his sake.
It’s clear she encouraged him. What gets much messier is the question of Michelle’s own mental state, and how that played into her reaction to Conrad’s suicide plan. Cogan notes that perhaps Michelle and Conrad were following a pattern that the severely depressed will follow on public forums online: they’ll trade their dark self-harm and death thoughts out loud to receptive ears, except the teens traded theirs via text message.
“Without being able to understand what each person might be going through personally, it certainly seems to be the case that those who experience mental illness can end up reinforcing maladaptive behaviors accidentally, or because they’re not resourced to know how to better help,” said Mitch Prinstein, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill who studies peer-to-peer relationships and their effects on teen depression and self-harm.
Prinstein offered that perhaps dealing with Conrad’s desire to kill himself was too much for Michelle to handle at such a young age. A high school friend of Michelle’s, who remained nameless, said Michelle probably thought she was helping her boyfriend.
Here’s a snippet of their texts from the day Conrad ended his life:
After Carter told him he had to commit suicide today, he responded: “Thank you.”
“For what?” she responded.
Roy: “Still being here.”
Carter: “I would never leave you. You’re the love of my life, my boyfriend. You are my heart. I’d never leave you.”
Carter: “I love you.”
Roy: “Love you, too.”
Massachusetts isn’t a state with a law “criminalizing the aid or assistance in someone else’s suicide” and a retired state superior-court judge named John M. Xifaras told South Coast Today that Michelle’s is a “very difficult case to prove” because “she didn’t put the instruments in his hand.” Still, there are other cases in Massachusetts and Minnesota where people have been convicted of pushing people toward suicide. Matt Segal, director for the Massachusetts ACLU, says the matter of free speech is also at play in Michelle’s case.
Oddly, there are other bits to Michelle’s narrative that are even more confounding, like her seeming dress rehearsals for the day of Conrad’s death.
Two days before Roy set off for the Fairhaven Kmart, she practiced her response to Roy’s death with friends, acting as if he were already gone. She texted a friend: “Like, he always texts me in the morning and he didn’t and he stopped answering last night.” She said she had reached out to Conrad’s mother, who said the family was looking for him but couldn’t find him. None of this was true, but it would be a few days later.
She also asked Conrad the day he died if he’d deleted their text thread, and later fretted to a friend about whether the police might come for her.
“I just got off the phone with Conrad’s mom about 20 minutes ago and she told me that the detectives had to come and go through his things and stuff,” she wrote. “It’s something they have to do with suicides and homicides and she said they have to go through his phone and see if anyone encouraged him to do it on text and stuff. Sam, they read my messages with him I’m done. His family will hate me and I can go to jail.”
She also continued to text Conrad’s phone over 70 times after his death and sent somewhat encouraging messages to his mother.
It’s now up to a Massachusetts court to judge Michelle’s sincerity, intentions, and mental state. The story remains confusing and troubling: read the whole NYMag feature here.
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via AP.