Parents sue Amazon for selling ‘suicide kits’
SAN JOSE, CA (CRON) — Amazon is refusing to stop selling and supplying “suicide kits” used by teenagers to kill themselves at home, two civil lawsuits filed against the online retail giant.
None of the teenagers’ grieving families realized that a deadly chemical had been ordered by a loved one online and delivered to their homes until it was too late. The sodium nitrite is sold on Amazon for less than $20 and is delivered to a home address in less than 48 hours, according to the families’ attorneys.
“Amazon is selling a product that is as deadly as cyanide,” wrote Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds of the law firm CA Goldberg.
The parents of 17-year-old Tyler Mulleman of San Jose, Calif.; Christine Jonson, 16, of Ohio; and Ethan McCarthy, 17, of West Virginia; say Amazon wrongfully aided and abetted the deaths of minors who suffered painful, agonizing deaths.
If you or someone you know you may be considering suicide, contact 988 Suicide and Crisis Helpline by calling 9-8-8 or the crisis text message line by texting “HOME” to 741741.
According to the lawsuits, Amazon profited by continuing to sell the deadly chemical even after the company was warned by families that it was killing vulnerable teenagers.
Amazon not only sells sodium nitrite, but its automated recommendation features such as “often bought together” suggest suicide instruction books as well as Tagamet, an acid-reducing drug that suicide forums recommend to prevent life-saving vomiting after ingestion of a lethal dose of sodium nitrite. “Amazon bundles sodium nitrite with other offerings to create suicide kits,” the lawsuit says.
On May 22, 2021, Muhleman purchased sodium nitrite and Tagamet using Amazon.com. Three days later, his parents came home from dinner to find their son dead. On his desk was a bottle of sodium nitrite and a glass of water. “Nowhere on the bottle or on the Amazon website does it inform consumers that ingestion of the product can cause prolonged, agonizing death,” the lawsuit says.
An Amazon spokesperson sent a statement to Nexstar’s KRON4 saying, “We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones personally affected by the suicide. Customer safety is a top priority at Amazon. We are committed to safe shopping and require our merchant partners to comply with all applicable laws and regulations when listing items on our store. Sodium nitrite is a legal and widely available product offered by retailers for preserving foods such as meat and fish and for use in laboratories as a reagent. Sodium nitrite is not intended for consumption and unfortunately, like many other products, it can be abused.
Michael Scott, the fourth victim to ingest the chemical, immediately regretted his decision. In his final moments, he sent text messages to his mother telling her he was throwing up and hoped it would stop the sodium nitrite from killing him. When his mother discovered his body, his face appeared “frozen with an expression of fear and agony,” the suit says.
“Experts say that for most people, suicidal thoughts eventually pass. Treatment, support from loved ones, and detailed safety plans can help. Clinicians and researchers have found that people are much more likely to attempt suicide if they learn about the methods, are convinced that it is the right thing to do, and have the means. Amazon is providing the funds,” the lawsuit states.
In May 2021, Muehlemann was preparing to graduate from high school and excelled academically. He enjoyed playing the drums in the school marching band. He also competes in a roller hockey league in San Jose. He refused to go to a restaurant with his parents and died before they returned home. The Santa Clara Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that his death was caused by ingestion of a lethal dose of the chemical.
A month after losing their son, Muhleman’s parents were further “horrified” when they received an email from their son’s Amazon address. The email said, “Ty, did the sodium nitrite meet your expectations? Check it out on Amazon.
The COVID pandemic has left teenagers like Jonsson feeling isolated, depressed and hopeless. In September 2020, the 16-year-old girl became “resolutely determined to die. She put on a brave face in front of her family; they had no idea,” the suit says.
“The pandemic has been extremely difficult for Christine. It started at a time in her life when she was just coming to her senses. By September 2020, she felt that the quarantine restrictions would never be lifted. In her diary, she expressed that she felt apathetic and meaningless. She expressed a lack of joy,” the suit states.
Jonson jotted down different ways he could die in his diary, carefully ruled out other measures and decided to buy the chemical through Amazon, according to the suit. The package arrived at her family’s home on September 26, 2020. Two days later, she was dead. She suffered “excruciating pain in her final moments,” the lawsuit said.
The victims’ families are suing Amazon for infliction of emotional distress, product liability and negligence. Damages include grief, mental anguish and emotional trauma suffered by families who have lost their loved ones.
Lifeline Support Services
Contact the Suicide and Crisis Helpline 988 if you are experiencing mental health distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
Contact a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free and available 24/7/365.
Visit the 988 Lifeline for Suicide and Crisis for more information at 988lifeline.org.