2 families endure suicides, blame popular Netflix show
OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Two Bay Area families are talking publicly for the first time about their daughters, both of whom committed suicide back in April.
They were just 15-years-old and took their own lives just days after watching a controversial show on Netflix called ‘13 Reasons Why’. It's about a young girl in high school who commits suicide.
Both families say that the show was a trigger for their daughters.
Bella Herndon was just three days away from her 16th birthday.
“My daughter was a hero. She believed in protecting her brothers. She stood up for them,” said her father, John Herndon.
Bella was a sophomore at Livermore Valley Charter Prep School.
She had straight As. Writing was her passion.
She loved English, it was her favorite class. She was going to be a writer.
“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,” said her mother Donna.
Bella’s father ended up cutting her down, she was on life support for a week and a half, but doctors finally said there was no hope.
Bella had been battling depression. She’d been bullied since middle school. But in the weeks before, she took her life. She seemed happy.
“She was doing great. We put her in a new school. She had new friends. They were coming over. She was interacting with them it was very positive.
Priscilla Chui was also 15 and was a sophomore at Aragon High School. She lived with her uncle Peter Chui.
“She was precocious. She's very determined,” he said. “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.” Chiu said.
He showed us the last photo of Priscilla taken when she was in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Priscilla had battled depression and other issues and looking back, Peter says he missed the signs. Her grades were going down and she told him she hated school.
“And I feel like the absolute worst adult because I kept forcing her to go to school,” said Peter.
Priscilla and Bella didn’t know each other.
Bella lived in Livermore, Priscilla in San Mateo.
But both of them committed suicide four days apart right after they watched the Netflix drama ‘13 Reasons Why’.
‘13 Reasons Why’ is based on a book about a young girl in high school who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 cassettes to be given to the people who she says were the reason why she took her life.
“It is very graphic, especially the two-minute scene where she slits her wrists in a bathtub,” said Chui.
Both John Herndon and Peter Chui feel that the show was a trigger for Bella and Priscilla and that the message of the show 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 for cyber bullying and other teenage issues,” said Chui.
The alternative he was referring to was suicide.
The executive producer of the Netflix show is Selena Gomez. She says the idea was to get people talking about suicide.
We reached out to her but she did not respond. The writer of the show is Brian Yorkey and he is very adamant about defending it.
He’s quoted as saying:
"Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide and I feel very strongly-- that we did the exact opposite. What we did was portray suicide and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging."
But John Herndon vehemently 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 is very aware of the controversy.
They sent us this statement:
“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.
The show was shot in the Bay Area and it has just been renewed for a second season. And that makes John Herndon livid.
“Don’t go through with the renewal for the second season of 13 Reasons Why. Stop this. This is wrong. You’re making money off the misery of others.”
Peter Chui agrees. He also has 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. There are other resources out there. This is not a way out for you,” said Chui.
Priscilla’s room is behind these white doors.
And every night Peter touches them before he goes to bed.
“I can hear her giggling; laughing with her friends and it's quiet, which is the hardest, because I miss her laugh.”
As for John Herndon, he’s only gone into Bella’s room twice since she took her life. He says it’s just too hard to be in there.
“When you go into your daughter’s room what do you think about?” we asked.
“How much I miss her,” he said. “How close she still feels, like she’s still here and that will never leave me. I’ll never be able to hold her hand. But I can still feel the person who she was.