Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Suicide of Ashley Riggitano

Last Wednesday a beautiful young New York Fashionista named Ashley Riggitano jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

In her suicide note she blamed five friends for her action and insisted that they not be allowed to attend her funeral. Some had been involved in disputes with her; some had bullied her; some had not. One girl, Alison Tinari, had once told Riggitano to kill herself.

Now, ask yourself this: where might Ashley Riggitano have gotten the idea that she could punish people who were tormenting her by jumping off the George Washington Bridge? Where might she have gotten the idea that she could become famous by martyring herself for the anti-bullying cause?

Does the name Tyler Clementi ring any bells?

A little over two years ago Rutgers Freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Clementi had been bullied by his roommate Dharan Ravi and classmate Molly Wei. The two had set up a webcam and tried to broadcast a tryst that Clementi was going to have with another man.

Clementi became a martyr for those who are trying to stop cyber bullying. He was also made a martyr to the cause of gay rights. President Obama and  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out about the Clementi suicide and the problem of cyberbullying. There were candlelight vigils in memory of Tyler Clementi.

Ravi was tried and convicted of invasion of privacy. He was sentenced to a month in prison, hundreds of hours of community service and counseling.

How well do we understand the effect of this coverage on vulnerable young minds? Did the glorification of Tyler Clementi and the vilification of Dharan Ravi offer Ashley Riggitano a pathway to fame and a means to punish her tormentors?

The Daily Mail reports that Riggitano had compared herself to Tyler Clementi:

On Thursday, [Alison] Tinari told The Post that the 22-year-old was harassing her online via private Facebook messages. She added that Riggitano was not her friend, and she told the woman to leave her alone. 

'It’s really horrible what happened. I feel really bad for her family,' Tinari said. 'I never went after her; she went after me.

'The only thing I’m ashamed of is what I said about her overdosing on Xanax. I shouldn’t have said that,' Tinari conceded. 

In a typo-filled message sent between January 8 and 9, Riggitano responded to the suicide comment by writing: 'Thats called a threat, and a suicidal threat the police dont take that lightly since the boy in ridgewood killed because of someones words.'

Riggitano was referring to the case of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi who killed himself in 2010 by jumping off George Washington Bridge after a roommate recorded his encounter with another man. 

In her missive, Riggitano went on to say that there are laws against bullying and Tinari should have 'checked that out' before making her remarks.

One recalls Ethan Watters’ book, Crazy Like Us. In it Watters explains that, for example, there were no cases of anorexia in Hong Kong until one day a young girl died of self-starvation. At that point the local press launched a massive media campaign to raise public awareness about the problem. As a consequence the number of anorexia cases in Hong Kong increased significantly.

Our culture teaches us that enhanced awareness and raised consciousness are good things. In some cases they might be, but we also need to understand that they can do harm.

Allow me one final note about the psychiatric aspect of the Ashley Riggitano suicide.

Riggitano has been described as depressed. At the time of her death her Louis Vuitton purse contained Adderall and Klonopin.

I am not a psychiatrist but I would like to know why someone who was depressed was being prescribed an amphetamine like Adderall and a high potency benzodiazepine, that is, tranquilizer like Klonopin?

As I understand it, both are addictive substances. I have no idea what effects they produce when taken in concert, but I do think that the issue should be addressed.

If Riggitano was as high-strung and prone to drama as her friends say she was, we can surely conclude that her medication was not doing her a world of good.


Katielee4211 said...

Sad. And what did she accomplish?

On the last note, you'd be horrified to see the smorgasbord of meds provider's issue scripts for- across the spectrum. Amphetamine's, anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants, sleeping pills....and at the same time at the drop of a dime. Not because any in depth diagnosis , but because someone's irritable, sad, can't focus, is stressed, many times which are even noted as situational. We are indeed a drugged country, with no motivation, or need to learn to cope with anything. We can literally 'take a pill'.

JP said...


"And what did she accomplish?"

Precisely what she intended to accomplish.

Dramatic international gossip regarding tragedy of her life.

Perhaps we can let the bodies of suicides rot in the public square, allowing the carrion birds and maggots to dine on their rotting flesh, thereby denying them a proper burial and also prohibiting any funeral services.

As you can tell, I'm not a fan of suicide.

Maybe if we try complete contempt, that will discourage people performing dramatic acts like this one.

(This is the first apartment complex that google maps has asked me to decode for them in the word verify program)

JP said...

And, no I didn't come up with that on my own.

I just came up with a new use for the old Zoroastrian funerary rites.

Yes, they really do expose the bodies in tower to be eaten by the birds.

I love multiculturalism!

Kate said...

I don't mean to be rude, or seem that I'm diminishing the sad actions of this girl, but what is a 'fashionista', and why is she a news item? Kids commit suicide all the time, for reasons we can only TRY to understand. Had a friend die recently by his own hand....late stage pancreatic cancer....and trying to understand is really tough. But he isn't news, although he should be, giving so much of himself to so many other.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

For the record a fashionista is a young woman who is breaking into the fashion industry.

I think that your point is well taken. Obviously, she decided that she wanted her suicide to make a statement... thus she did it in public where she could garner a large audience. The same no doubt applies to Tyler Clementi.

Unfortunately, the best people rarely get the most attention.

CatherineM said...

I recall in the 80s teen suicides went up and there was an epidemic in Plano Texas because the ones who died got so much attention, the live ones were jealous and killed themselves too. I think that's what inspired the movie "Heathers."