Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Police Kick in Door in Confusion Over Suicide Kit

This door to a Springfield condominium was broken down by Springfield police after one of the residents purchased a suicide kit to aid a story being written for The Register-Guard earlier this year.

SPRINGFIELD — The teletype message came Tuesday from the FBI, and it sounded urgent: A Springfield man had purchased a mail-order suicide kit and could be in danger.

Springfield police responded immediately to the man’s Harlow Road home. They spoke with the condominium complex’s manager, who told officers that he had seen the man carry a bag into his house earlier in the day, police Sgt. Richard Jones said.

Officers knocked on the man’s front door, but received no response. After conferring with a police captain who urged them to force their way into the home in case the man needed immediate help, officers kicked in the front door, Jones said.

They soon learned the man was not home.

He was at work — in The Register-Guard’s newsroom. And he said he’s not at all suicidal.

Furthermore, he’s not angry at Springfield police for kicking in his front door and damaging an interior door that had been shut.  “I’m going to put it all down as a misunderstanding,” he said. “I thanked (the police officer who spoke with me on the phone about the incident) for taking it seriously and making sure that I was OK.”

The Register-Guard employee — who said the complex manager must have seen him toting his gym bag home on Tuesday — agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his name not be used, citing privacy concerns. He said he purchased by mail a helium-hood suicide kit in February from a Southern California company that is now the focus of an ongoing FBI investigation.
He didn’t buy the kit for personal reasons. He mailed a check to The Gladd Group in order to get a suicide kit for reporter Randi Bjornstad, who at the time was researching the sale of the suicide kits for a story that was published March 20.

Bjornstad said she asked her colleague to order one of the kits by following instructions on a website maintained by Derek Humphry, a longtime Junction City resident and pro-suicide advocate whom she had interviewed as part of her research.

Although he claims complete separation from The Gladd Group, which manufactured and sold the devices until the FBI raided the business in late May, Humphry was the sole source, via his books, blog and online videos, for the company’s address and the instructions for using the kit to commit suicide.

Bjornstad said she didn’t want to raise any red flags that could prevent her from obtaining a kit if someone with The Gladd Group identified her as a reporter who had been researching the device.

The FBI’s investigation involving The Gladd Group is ongoing. Since the May raid on the home of the company’s owner, 91-year-old Sharlotte Hydorn, the FBI has asked local law enforcement agencies throughout the country to carry out “welfare checks” on people whose names are apparently listed on client lists gleaned from Hydorn’s computers.

Jones, the Springfield police sergeant, said the FBI teletype his office received on Tuesday did not state when the Springfield man purchased the suicide kit.
“Nowhere in this teletype does it say that this happened (seven) months ago,” Jones said. “It was interpreted by us that they’re suggesting that we need to go out now and conduct a welfare assessment.”

While Jones said he hopes to follow up with the FBI to ask why they didn’t share more detailed information with police, he realizes that many of The Gladd Group’s customers have probably bought the kits while contemplating end-of-life decisions.

“Most of them aren’t going to be newspaper reporters looking to buy one for a story,” Jones said.

In response to the same teletype, a Lane County sheriff’s sergeant contacted a local woman who had purchased a kit from Hydorn’s company.  “She advised that she bought it as an option in the future, but had no immediate plans” of suicide, sheriff’s Lt. Byron Trapp said. He did not know when she bought the kit.

The sheriff’s office will notify the FBI that they spoke with the woman about her purchase, Trapp said.

Responding Tuesday to a Register-Guard reporter’s questions about the situation involving the Springfield Register-Guard employee, FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, who works in the agency’s San Diego office, issued a brief statement in which he said “that when the FBI receives information that a person may cause harm to themselves or others, we will contact the appropriate agency so that agency, at their discretion, and within their own guidelines, may take whatever action they deem appropriate. The FBI does this out of an abundance of caution for the safety of the individual and the public.”

A spotlight was cast on the mail-order suicide kit business after a 29-year-old Eugene man committed suicide in December using a helium hood kit. The Register-Guard traced the $60 kit to Hydorn, who has no website and does no advertising; clients find her address through the writings of Humphry.
State lawmakers this year approved a bill that makes it a felony to sell suicide kits to Oregonians. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill into law in July.
The Register-Guard employee who purchased the kit in February said that Springfield police apologized and assured him that they would pay for damages to his home. He said the kit is no longer at his residence. Rather, the newspaper has it.

He also pointed out that officers could have simply opened the front door, had they checked underneath his door mat and seen the house key that he had left there earlier in the day for his wife, who had forgotten hers when she went to town.