Amazon sued for selling 'suicide kits’ bought by teens who used deadly chemical to kill themselves

Amazon sued for selling 'suicide kits’ bought by teens who used deadly chemical to kill themselves
Parents of Ethan McCarthy (top left) and Kristine Jonsson (top right) are suing Amazon for selling a lethal chemical which the teenagers consumed to kill themselves (Reger Funeral Home, Tidd Funeral Home/website, David McNew/Getty Images)

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Trigger warning: The following article contains information that some readers may find traumatic. Discretion is advised.

Two families claim that their teenage children died from suicide using a drug they purchased on Amazon and they are suing the digital giant for allegedly selling the lethal substance on purpose. On September 30, 2020, Kristine Jonsson, 16, of Hilliard, Ohio, took her own life. And on January 7, 2021, Ethan McCarthy, 17, of Milton, West Virginia, also killed himself. Although there is no relationship between the families, each hired the same Brooklyn law firm.

Both adolescent suicides were due to ingestion of sodium nitrate, a food preservative that can be fatal in excessive concentrations. The chemical purchased by the teens on Amazon, is widely advertised in publications and on suicide forums online. “Amazon is selling a product that is as deadly as cyanide,” said Carrie Goldberg and Naomi Leeds, two attorneys for the families, who filed their case on September 29 in California state court. 

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They point out that Amazon's online suggestions advise customers who bought the chemical to additionally purchase a scale to measure the proper quantity, an anti-vomiting medication and Amazon's version of a manual on assisted suicide. “This is different from them selling rope, knives, or other implements that can be used for death because there is no household use for [sodium nitrite] at the level of purity (98-99%) it sells it. Sodium nitrite is not intended for consumption, and unfortunately, like many products, it can be misused," an Amazon spokesman told Daily Mail. Kristine was described by the Jonsson family as an "extremely intelligent and focused" artist, high school student, and cheerful, healthy person. She adored playing board games with the family, which included her parents, younger brother Daniel, and sister Katherine. 

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However, after the pandemic, she withdrew and fell into depression. “The pandemic was extremely difficult for Kristine,” the court documents state. “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. The 16-year-old made an Amazon account and purchased the chemical for $28.67. She left a suicide note for her parents who discovered her death in the car the following morning.

On the other hand, the McCarthy family reported that 17-year-old Ethan Maynard resided with his mother Nikki Maynard, a nurse with experience working with children with special needs and his two brothers, Caleb and Emily. “Life had been hectic because of Covid, but the family had a good Christmas and enjoyed the holidays together as a family with the kids' father, Nick McCarthy,” the lawsuit states. Ethan was regarded by his family as "very sociable," "outdoorsy," and academically successful despite not appearing to strive hard. He was described as "the problem solver in the family, settling disputes between his brothers," and he was passionate about rock climbing, weightlifting, his dog Jasper and his four-year-old cousin. On January 2, 2021, Ethan's mother discovered that she had gotten an email from Amazon containing a $28.54 receipt for unidentified goods that she had not bought. 

According to the lawsuit: “She asked her kids if they had ordered the product, Sodium Nitrite, from her account. They said they had no idea what it was and that no, they had not ordered it. Caleb joked that maybe it was for a bomb.” When she contacted Amazon, they responded that there must have been a mistake and that the product will not be shipped. But the item did come, along with other things she had bought and on January 7, 2021, she discovered her son had died in bed. The family moved in with Maynard's mother and they remained in the house until it was sold before they went out of state because the family was too traumatized to stay in it. Intense distress was experienced by the families of McCarthy and Jonsson, and as a result, family members were given medication to help them cope and had to take time off of work for months. In their case, they claim that the medicine is classified as "reportable" in the UK, which means that buying it raises red flags. “Had Amazon applied the standard of care it must use for its sales of Sodium Nitrite in the UK, it would have determined that Kristine and Ethan, neither of which had user histories of purchasing meat preservatives, made suspicious, reportable purchases of Sodium Nitrite,” they state.

Additionally, the year prior to Kristine's passing, eBay prohibited the selling of sodium nitrate after discovering that it may be used as a suicide tool. “In contrast, upon receiving notice that the Sodium Nitrite it was selling and delivering was killing kids, Amazon made the informed decision, on the counsel and advice of their lawyers, to continue to sell a substance they know is sold over and over again for suicide,” the lawsuit states.

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