- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

CHICAGO

Matt Frank had been dead for eight hours when the first goodbye message was posted on his MySpace.com page. The note was short and simple: “I love you. I’ll miss you.”

Dozens more followed, as disbelieving friends took to the Web to mourn the 17-year-old and three other teenagers who were killed Sunday when a car — crammed with nine passengers — slammed into a utility pole after a late-night house party in suburban Chicago.

“All I can say out of everything that I told you and taught you, I wish so bad that you wouldn’t have taken my quote to heart. … ‘Live well, Party harty, Die young,’ ” wrote friend Kristi Morrison, 19. “Im so sorry I wish I could take that back. I love you so much man.”

More than half of teenagers who use the Internet frequent social-networking sites like Facebook.com and MySpace, where they create elaborate profiles and personalize them with photos, music and video. It follows that the online hangouts have become as important to young people in death as they were in life.

“These are places where people in many ways lived their lives online,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “And what better way to grieve or mourn a person than in a space they created.”

Policies on what to do when an Internet user or blogger dies vary among services, illustrated by the 2005 case of a Marine killed in Iraq whose family went to court to get access to e-mails he had sent through a Yahoo Inc. account.

MySpace avoids deleting the deceased’s profiles unless asked by family members, which means the profiles-turned-memorials can stay active for years. “We often hear from families that a user’s profile is a way for friends to celebrate the person’s life, giving friends a positive outlet to connect with one another and find comfort during the grieving process,” MySpace said in a statement.

Bernice Hartman, of New Ringgold, Pa., didn’t know her daughter had a MySpace account until the 21-year-old soldier was killed during a September suicide bombing in Iraq.

Months after Jen Hartman’s death, messages and tributes continued to pop up on the site. “It’s hard to read, but it’s more comforting,” her mother said. “I think it’s easier for her friends.”

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