An Orange County couple's grief over the suicide of their teenage son has been compounded by the fact that local police were alerted to his intentions by a stranger hundreds of miles away, but failed to check on his well-being or notify them. They have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Huntington Beach Police Department.
This July the 17-year-old football player, who was going into his final year at Liberty Christian High School, posted a message on the website iFunny saying that he was going to kill himself. According to Courthouse News Service, another teenager in Northern California saw the post. She looked him up on Facebook and saw that he lived in Huntington Beach. The lawsuit says that she called the HBPD and sent them a screenshot of the post.
The boy's parents say the person at the HBPD who spoke to the girl assured her that they would handle it. That's where the two versions of events diverge.
According to HBPD, they made several phone calls to a number they located under the young man's name. The parents, however, say they received calls.
As to why no officer visited the home to check on the situation, they say that they could not be certain of the address based on the name. The family's lawyer, however, says that they had a legal responsibility to notify the family since they were made aware of the suicidal message and had promised the person who reported it that they would handle it.
According to Courthouse News Service, less than 24 hours after police got the call from the young woman, the Huntington Beach teen shot himself in the head.
The young man's parents contend that if police had followed up on the warning, their son would be alive today. They are seeking damages in the amount of his lifetime projected income as well as for emotional distress.
Police departments nationwide do welfare checks on people whom they are informed may be in danger. Why more effort was not made to check on this young man may never be known. However, his parents can and should hold them responsible for failing to follow up on a warning from a young woman who appears to have shown more concern for someone she didn't even know than they did for a member of the community they are sworn to protect and serve.
Source: Huntington Beach Independent, "Family sues city after son's suicide" Emily Foxhall, Nov. 19, 2013