Commentary: Web suicide, technology and detachment

They were no better than the witnesses who turned away the night Kitty Genovese was murdered.

Except, in the death of Abraham Biggs Jr., they didn't turn away. They watched with callous indifference as the young Pembroke Pines man orchestrated a webcam suicide. They let him die.

In 1964, 38 neighbors and passersby heard the screams of Genovese, a 29-year-old woman, outside her New York City apartment building or saw a man attack her with a knife. No one called the police. They turned away. They elected not to get involved.

The attacker fled, returned 10 minutes later and hunted down the bleeding Genovese who was cowering in a hallway. He raped her, killed her and stole $49 from her corpse.

Shocked Americans decided those 38 apathetic witnesses had failed a fundamental test of social decency. The Genovese murder became a case study in human indifference.

Sociologists have a new case to ponder. On Wednesday, 19-year-old Biggs ingested a fatal excess of Xanax and Lexapro and lay down to die, still wearing his black baseball cap, as his webcam broadcast the scene. Some among his bizarre Internet audience, using the medium of instant messaging, had urged him on.

To read the complete column, visit The Miami Herald.