Over the last week or so the story of Leelah Alcorn has been told on social media. A transgender teenager, she committed suicide by stepping into traffic and being hit by a tractor and trailer.
On Sunday, just before 2:30 a.m., Alcorn walked 4 miles from her middle-class Kings Mills neighborhood with its views of Kings Island to Interstate 71. There, she was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer. The highway was closed for more than a hour.
While I have every sympathy with Leela's mother, and with all her friends and relatives, and I share the feeling that it was a tragedy that she chose to die because of her circumstances, I also feel that one other person's trauma has been largely ignored; the driver whose vehicle crushed Leela's body. He will never be able to forget what happened.
Leela is described in a statement from her school as "a sweet, talented, tender-hearted 17-year-old." She wrote in her blog, "My death needs to mean something". She was referring to the prejudice and bullying experienced by people like herself. But this sweet, tender-hearted teen didn't take pills or drown herself; she got someone else to kill her. She didn't think about the effect that might have on him.
Letters to The Age in 2012 reflect the trauma suffered by railway workers whose trains have struck suicides. A front-seat passenger described one fatality,
I will never forget the scream of the driver and the feeling of the train running over the woman's body...
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the nightmares? The anxiety every time you see someone stepping towards the road out of the corner of your eye? In the UK, train drivers who used to be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund have lost that right, despite being off work for months or leaving the job altogether, and suffering long-term depression. Nik Douglas, whose train hit a man, described how his life changed in 2012:
For the next six months he was off work with post-traumatic stress. “When I was on my own I’d burst into tears for no reason, I found sleep hard and I’d have flashbacks during the night and day,” he says. “I could be in a room full of people with a really good party atmosphere but feel alone, isolated. That’s one of the biggest things I remember, feeling alone.”
The Samaritans and Network Rail have formed a partnership to try and address the problem, for the benefit of all concerned. Here's their video.
So OK, sympathise with Leela, and others like her, but think of the damage that they've done to other people too. It may have been unintentional, but maybe if more people are aware of the problem it might, just might, prevent copy-cat suicides.
As I wrote in a previous post, suicides are notoriously oblivious to the effect that their actions have on other people.
Rail minister tells MPs number of rail services affected by suicides in greater anglia area increased from1700 to 8000 in last year
— Andrew Sinclair (@andrewpolitics) January 28, 2015