An autistic teen hanged himself after receiving a spam email that appeared to be from police, accusing him of downloading indecent images to his computer.
Joseph Edwards, according to authorities, mistakenly clicked on the email and is believed to have taken it literally because of his autism. The email, which was made to look like it had come from the police, accused him of having crude images and demanded that he pay €100 [$112.18] or face consequences. Police said they believe it to have been a spam email, as it reportedly also gave his computer a virus.
“It seems that from examining the computer that there appeared to be some sort of scam on it,” coroner Michael Burgess said. “He had inadvertently clicked onto this and it seemed to be, according to the police, ‘a poor attempt at blackmail.’ It (his autism) may have meant he took it very seriously.”
Feeling panicked from the email, and fearing backlash from his mother Jacqueline and sister Georgia, Edwards took his own life on Aug. 6. He died from asphyxia due to hanging. Jacqueline Edwards found her son’s body in his room and reportedly ran screaming into the street. A neighbor heard the commotion and subsequently called 911. Authorities arrived and seized Edwards’ computer. They also discovered a note he left before hanging himself.
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“Joseph was subjected to a scam on the internet, a threatening, fake police link that was asking for money,” Jacqueline said in a statement. “He would have taken it literally because of his autism and he didn’t want to upset Georgia or me. The internet is an amazing thing, but it can also be dangerous and I want parents to make sure their children are aware of this sort of scam, especially autistic children, because they will not understand.”
Family and friends described Edwards as a “loving” young man who was always happy.
“Jospeh was a very loving boy. He had a quirky sense of humor, and was just starting to develop his confidence and in many ways he was a typical teenager, despite being autistic,” his mother said. “He was a sensible, calm, kind and gentle boy - those are all words people are using about him, but his friends have also told me they will remember him as a ‘crazy dancer.'” Edwards’ family was reportedly planning to take him to New York for his 18th birthday.
“He was generally happy and had just started new friendship circles and was enjoying himself,” Jacqueline said at a recent hearing. “He didn’t seem to have any worries known to me. I don’t think he really understood. He did suffer from autism. I’m not sure he would have really understood the implications of what he was doing. He wouldn’t have done anything to upset myself or his sister, not deliberately.”