SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Amazon refuses to stop selling and delivering “suicide kits” that are used by teenagers to kill themselves at home, two civil lawsuits filed against the online retail giant claim.
None of the teenagers’ grieving families realized that a deadly chemical was ordered by their loved one online and delivered to their homes, until it was too late. Sodium nitrite is sold by Amazon for less than $20 and 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 C.A. Goldberg.
The parents of 17-year-old Tyler Muhleman, of San Jose, Calif.; 16-year-old Kristine Jonsson, of Ohio; and 17-year-old Ethan McCarthy, of West Virginia; say Amazon wrongfully assisted in the deaths of minors who suffered painful, agonizing deaths.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling 9-8-8, or the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.
According to the lawsuits, Amazon is profiting from continuing to sell the deadly chemical even after the company was alerted by families that it was killing vulnerable teenagers.
Not only does Amazon sell the sodium nitrite, but its automated recommendation features such as “frequently bought together” offer how-to books on suicide, as well as Tagamet, an acid reduction medicine suicide forums recommend to prevent life-saving vomiting after ingesting a deadly dose of sodium nitrite. “Amazon bundles sodium nitrite with other offerings to create suicide kits,” the lawsuit writes.
On May 22, 2021, Muhleman bought sodium nitrite and Tagamet using Amazon.com. Three days later, his parents returned home from dinner and found their son dead. A bottle of sodium nitrite and a glass of water were on his desk. “Nowhere on the bottle or the website does Amazon inform consumers that the product’s ingestion can cause a prolonged, agonizing death,” the lawsuit writes.
An Amazon spokesperson sent a statement to Nexstar’s KRON4 writing, “We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones personally affected by suicide. Customer safety is a top priority at Amazon. We are committed to a safe shopping experience and require our selling partners to follow all applicable laws and regulations when listing items in our store. Sodium nitrite is a legal and widely-available product offered by retailers to preserve foods, such as meats and fish, and for use in laboratories as a reagent. Sodium nitrite is not intended for consumption, and unfortunately, like many products, it can be misused.”
Mikael Scott, a fourth victim who ingested the chemical, immediately regretted his decision. During the last moments of his life, he sent text messages to his mother telling her that he was throwing up and he was hopeful that it would stop the sodium nitrite from killing him. When his mother found his body, his face appeared “frozen with a look of fear and agony,” the suit writes.
“Experts say that for most people, suicidal thoughts will eventually pass. Treatment, support from loved ones, and detailed plans to keep safe can help. Clinicians and researchers have found that people are much more likely to attempt suicide if they learn about methods, become convinced it is the right thing to do, and have the means. Amazon provides the means,” the lawsuit states.
In May 2021, Muhleman was preparing to graduate from high school and excelled in academics. He loved playing the drums in his school’s marching band. He also competed in a roller hockey league in San Jose. He declined to go out to a restaurant with his parents and he died before they returned home. The Santa Clara Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed his death was caused by ingesting a lethal dose of the chemical.
One month after losing their son, Muhleman’s parents were further “horrified” when they received an email from Amazon address to their son. The email wrote, “Ty, did … sodium nitrite meet your expectations? Review it on Amazon.”
The COVID pandemic caused teenagers like Jonsson to feel isolated, depressed, and hopeless. In September of 2020, the 16-year-old girl became “resolute about dying. She put on a brave face to her family; they had no idea,” the lawsuit states.
“The pandemic was extremely difficult for Kristine. It began at a time in her life when she was just beginning to come into her own. By September 2020, she felt the quarantine restrictions would never lift. In her diary, she expressed feeling listless and meaningless. She expressed feeling no joy,” the lawsuit states.
Jonsson wrote down in her diary different ways she could die, 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 suit states.
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 lost their loved ones.
Lifeline Support Services
Contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline if you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
- Call or text 988
- Chat at 988lifeline.org
Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365.
Visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for more information at 988lifeline.org.