chat room encounter leads to rescuegreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Chat room encounter leads to rescue February 20, 2000 Web posted at: 1:22 AM EST (0622 GMT)
BOSTON (AP) -- A chance Internet encounter between a Wisconsin man and a Boston woman ended with police rushing to the woman's apartment after she declared in cyberspace that she was trying to kill herself.
As the frightening situation unfolded on his computer screen, Jeff Erlanger, 29, of Madison, Wisconsin, had three vital pieces of data about the woman: her first name, her online screen name and that she lived in Boston.
"It was really unbelievable and terrifying," Erlanger said of his role in Thursday night's rescue.
When he first signed on to the public America Online chat board and noticed a woman named Sarah, Erlanger decided to start a private conversation.
He learned that she was from Boston and was a dentist. But Sarah also said she was manic-depressive, that she had been hospitalized, and that she had previously attempted suicide.
"Then the next thing she told me was that she had cut herself and blood was going down her arms," he told The Boston Globe. "I tried to get her to tell me her last name and she wouldn't. I asked her if she wanted help. She said no."
Erlanger initially wasn't sure if the suicide attempt was real or a hoax. When he decided he had to call authorities, he realized his computer modem was occupying his only phone line.
"I was stuck between, do I keep talking to her, or do I leave and go to another phone and leave her hanging?" he said.
Without telling Sarah he was leaving his computer, Erlanger rushed to a phone in the lobby of his building. But the 911 operator in Boston told Erlanger police could do little to help Sarah without her last name or address.
Five minutes had passed by the time Erlanger got back to his computer. But when Sarah abruptly signed off, he called Boston police once again.
They told him federal law allowed online companies to reveal a person's full name in emergencies. Erlanger gave police an America Online phone number and the woman's screen name.
When Boston police arrived at Sarah's apartment they found her with fresh cuts on her wrists, refusing to seek help. She was taken to a Boston hospital where she was treated, police spokesman Kevin Jones said.
-- boop (email@example.com), February 20, 2000
From: Y2K, ` la Carte by Dancr (pic), near Monterey, California
The local TV news coverage of this story showed the hero sitting at his computer in a wheelchair, tapping his keyboard using the eraser end of a pencil. That stuck me as quite odd, since they didn't mention anything about his disability. It seems like they would have played that up for the human interest aspect.
-- Dancr (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 21, 2000.