Police probing 'pro-choice' suicide forum after Newberry Twp. woman's death

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Shawn Shatto, 25, of York Haven, committed suicide after finding information on suicide methods from a website that bills itself as a "pro-choice forum" for suicide and suicidal people.

Newberry Township's police chief said his department is investigating the suicide of a 25-year-old township resident to see whether anyone who assisted her online broke any laws.

Shawn Alexandra Shatto killed herself on May 22, according to her obituary, which stated she was kindhearted, talented and a gentle soul but suffered from severe depression and anxiety.

"It's just a preliminary investigation at this point," Chief Steven Lutz said, "basically determining whether a violation of a criminal statute was committed."

According to Lutz, Shatto found a website that bills itself as a "pro-choice forum" on suicide.

On that forum, she found a method to take her own life using an easily obtainable substance, he said.

"The forum provided her with the (instructions) and where to obtain it and how to successfully complete the act," Lutz said.

Reviewing evidence: Investigators are reviewing and analyzing evidence they've collected, including digital evidence, according to the chief.

"We have spoken with the district attorney's office and are working in conjunction with them," he said.

York County Coroner Pam Gay said Shatto died from ingesting "an easily obtainable compound." The coroner's office has ruled the death a suicide.

Shawn Shatto

No one on the forum tried to help her, according to the coroner.

"They acknowledged what she was about to do, and in some ways it was like ... they were indirectly encouraging her," Gay said. "I certainly understand people's right to free speech, but with it there also comes a responsibility."

Lutz said Shatto's mother, Jacqueline Bieber, discovered the forum while searching her daughter's web-browsing history.

"She brought it to our attention," he said. "I didn't even know that website existed."

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Forum scrubbed? The chief said he was told that after Shatto killed herself, the forum removed all mention of her and added disclaimers to the site.

Lutz said it's sad that Shatto felt she had to resort to suicide, "not only for her, but for her family, who has to endure this pain."

Shatto graduated from Red Land High School, where she was a member of the marching band, then attended Harrisburg Area Community College and Penn State, majoring in science, according to her obituary.

Her death "reminds us that life and gentle hearts can be fragile and cannot always stay," her obituary states.

The York Dispatch is withholding the name and web address of the suicide forum.

Multiple attempts to leave messages for forum administrators were unsuccessful this week because the website repeatedly refused to accept message submissions on its "contact us" page.

If you feel suicidal, or know someone who might, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's toll-free hotline, 800-273-8255. Or visit the organization's website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.

Contributions in Shatto's memory may be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at afsp.org.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.