An inquest heard that a 13-year-old boy from Beirut jumped to his death after viewing and sharing suicide-related content online during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The BBC reported that on April 20, 2021, Zaheid Ali got on a bus as he normally would to go to school, but got off the bus early and jumped from Tower Bridge. It took eight days, but his body was pulled from the water of the Thames in East London. Among the items found in his jacket were a suicide note and the lyrics to a song about a girl who took her own life.
At the inquest, it was revealed that he had been inspired to commit suicide after reading the social media posts of a US man who had published a countdown to his own suicide on YouTube and tweeted about his plans to do the same. He also told his schoolmates, via WhatsApp, “I hate life at the moment and kind of want to give up.”
Mumen Ali, Zaheid’s father, testified at the hearing that he was “baffled” by his son’s death because he had not noticed any changes in his son’s behavior. The young man was “glued to his phone” and rarely left his room in the days leading up to his suicide, he said; he had been born prematurely and struggled with internal malabsorption, a digestive disorder.
It wasn’t unusual for him, and his parents saw it the same way. They “put it down to his hormones changing from being a boy to a man,” the father reportedly told the court, as reported by Metro newspaper.
After the March 2019 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 people were killed, he added that he thought his son was concerned about Islamophobia.
Una Sookun, vice principal of Ark Globe Academy in London’s Elephant and Castle neighborhood, testified at Zaheid’s hearing that the 13-year-old student was “academically very able” but “quiet” and had a “very small friendship group.”
Sookun claimed that Zaheid had enjoyed Year 7 until the lockdown began, at which point Zaheid lost interest in school. In September of 2020, he caused a “small concern” by posting religious messages on a school message board.
Two months later, in the same kind of chat room, he “called for people to die” and claimed he was a mistake to be born at all. On January 25, 2021, Zaheid emailed his teacher about how difficult he found it to get up at 8 a.m. for class.
Someone was heard calling for help in the Thames around 8 a.m. on April 20, 2021, according to City of London Police Detective Constable Khadra Mallin, who testified at the inquest. Someone dove in and came up with nothing but the boy’s jacket and backpack. It took over a week to locate and retrieve the body.
On the first day of school after the Easter break, a fellow student told police that Zaheid boarded the bus to go to school at his regular stop in Canada Water but exited the bus before it reached the school.
Dr. Simi George, a forensic pathologist, ruled that the preliminary cause of death was due to drowning. Dr. Julian Morris, the assistant coroner, recorded a suicide verdict and expressed his condolences to Zaheid’s loved ones.