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2 Teen Suicides Blamed on “13 Reasons Why”

13 reasons full faceCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

The parents of two teenagers say their children committed suicide just days after watching the controversial Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, which many believe glorifies suicide and revenge.

According to, Bella Herndon, 15, and Priscilla Chui, also 15, both took their lives shortly after watching the show which is about a teen who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes to be given to the people who she claims compelled her to take her own life.

The families of both girls say the show was a trigger for their daughters.

Bella Herndon, who was just three days shy of her 16th birthday when she hung herself in her bedroom closet, was a sophomore at Livermore Valley Charter Prep School in Livermore, California. She was a straight “A” student who loved English and was planning to be a writer.

Her mother, Donna, found her hanging in the closet.

“All I could see is that she was on her knees bent over, like she was digging in the closet. I thought she was joking around ‘cause there’s really nothing to find in her closet. So I laughed and said, ‘Hey Bella, what are you doing?’ And then I got closer and she had hung herself. She was so blue,” Donna recalled.

Bella’s father, John Herndon, cut her down. She was rushed to the hospital and put on life support but a week later, doctors determined there was no hope.

The Herndons say their daughter had been bullied since middle school and was battling depression, but in the weeks before her death she seemed happy. She had just started in a new school and was making new friends.

Priscilla Chui, a 15 year-old sophomore at Aragon High School in San Mateo, California, lived with her uncle Peter Chui.

“She was precocious. She's very determined,” he told KTVU. “I just remember her brother running out and screaming, ‘Priscilla hung herself! We took her down, called 911, tried to do what we could…CPR, but it was pretty obvious. She was cold.”

Priscilla was also battling depression. Her grades were falling and she frequently told him she hated school.

Her uncle now chides himself for missing the signs.

“ . . . I feel like the absolute worst adult because I kept forcing her to go to school,” he said.

The two girls, who did not know each other, both committed suicide four days apart – and both had just watched the Netflix drama..

Bella Herndon (L) and Priscilla Chui Bella Herndon (L) and Priscilla Chui

“It is very graphic, especially the two-minute scene where she slits her wrists in a bathtub,” said Chui.

Both families blame the show for triggering the suicides of Bella and Priscilla and believe the message the show is conveying is that suicide is the only answer.

“I feel it's dangerous for that small percentage of young adults who the show can become a trigger for them and I feel as if the show gives only one alternative [suicide] for cyber bullying and other teenage issues,” said Chui.

Selena Gomez, the executive producer of the Netflix show, claims she intends the story to get people talking about suicide. She has not yet commented on the death of the two teens.

The show’s writer, Brian Yorkey, has vigorously defended the show.

"Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide and I feel very strongly-- that we did the exact opposite,” he is quoted as saying. “What we did was portray suicide and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging."

However, John Herndon strongly disagrees. “There is no word that describes my contempt for the people who did this. You can’t convince me that they were trying to attract attention to the issue of teen suicide by showing a little girl killing herself. There’s nothing positive about that.”

Netflix gave a statement to KTVU expressing regret over the girls’ deaths but claiming the show has been encouraging people to get help.

“Our hearts go out to these families during this difficult time. We have heard from many viewers that 13 Reasons Why has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates around the difficult topics depicted in the show. We took extra precautions to alert viewers to the nature of the content and created a global website to help people find local mental health resources.”

Unfortunately, the breakdown of families, the scourge of bullying, and other pressures put on youth during this already difficult time of life has resulted in suicide becoming one of the leading causes of death among youth. Today's teens are too fragile and many are unable to process the positive message this film is supposed to be promoting. Instead, they're seeing suicide as a way out, a way to get back at everyone who hurt them.

Which begs the question, why would Selena Gomez and others involved in the making of this film who are not mental health experts, engage in such a risky project? When children's lives are at stake, why not err on the side of caution and scrap the show?

But instead, Netflix has just renewed the show for second season.

“Don’t go through with the renewal for the second season of 13 Reasons Why,” John Herndon pleads. “Stop this. This is wrong. You’re making money off the misery of others.”

Peter Chui agrees and says he has only one request for Selena Gomez.

“I would implore and beg Selena Gomez because she has a huge platform to please reach out to our kids and please tell them there are other options," he said. "There are other resources out there. This is not a way out for you.”

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