Reporting from Houston —
Nebraska authorities are investigating whether a 19-year-old Omaha-area man who shot himself while appearing on video in an online chat room committed suicide.
Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey told the Los Angeles Times that the shooting was reported by a Florida man who had been viewing the chat on Friday evening. The man did not see the shooting before logging off, but saw people chatting about it when he logged on Saturday. He called police that morning.
Stacey declined to identify the man or the chat room, which he said was not a niche group but a place where people gathered to socialize.
After hearing from the Florida man, police went to the shooting victim's home in Bellevue, a suburb a dozen miles southeast of Omaha.
At the door, they were greeted by the man's mother, who lived with him.
"She has no idea why we're there," Stacey said.
She led investigators upstairs to the man's room, where they found him dead, a gunshot wound in his head, Stacey said.
Investigators believe the shooting happened about 3 a.m. They were still trying to determine Wednesday whether it was a suicide or an accident, Stacey said.
Police were examining the man's computer to see whether they could determine which users were logged into the chat room when the shooting occurred, and who those users were, Stacey said. It was not clear why the shooting wasn't reported sooner.
“It’s going to be a time-consuming investigation because of the intricacies of being in a chat room. It’s going to be a challenge for our computer forensics team,” Stacey said. “We could be talking about people in Russia or China.”
He urged potential witnesses to come forward, saying police are not interested in charging them in connection with the shooting.
“All we’re looking for is information and closure for the family about what may have been the cause of this,” he said.
Stacey said investigators did not know whether any online viewers had recorded the shooting.
“Once we find out who was there, we can find out if anyone has a screen shot," he said. In the meantime, "We’re hoping it doesn't go viral.”
If the man did commit suicide in front of an online audience, he would not be the first.
In 2008, a 19-year-old Florida college student committed suicide by overdosing in front of an online crowd, some of whom encouraged him. Viewers called police, but it was too late to save the man.
A year earlier, a 42-year-old man in England hanged himself in front of a chat room. A user notified police, who later found the man's body.