After being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "Shawn's Law," named after Shawn Shatto, was signed into Pennsylvania state law on Sept. 30, providing relief for the family of Shawn, and rewarding advocates of Suicide Awareness Month as both concluded this September.
"Shawn's Law," or House Bill 184, holds accountable any person who encourages the suicide of a minor under 18 years old, or any person with an intellectual disability. Shawn's suicide was encouraged by an online community of suicidal individuals.
Shawn's mother, Jackie Michelle Bieber, has organized, rallied, and spoke on behalf of her daughter--and all suicide victims. In April, Jackie promoted the cause in Harrisburg, after the bill passed the House (and went on to the Senate.)
Shawn's mother drafted the following letter to commemorate the passage of "Shawn's Law" and Suicide Awareness Month:
From the bottom of our hearts…a BIG THANK YOU to our PA State Rep. Dawn Keefer and Rep. Frank Ryan as well as the entire PA General Assembly for being wonderful champions for our children, and for helping to further protect vulnerable, precious lives from horrible predators who encourage or assist with the tragic act of suicide.
Today, our family is pleased that Gov. Tom Wolf signed “Shawn’s Law” which we are hopeful will become another important life-saving measure in our Commonwealth. It also honors the legacy of our beautiful daughter Shawn, who sadly ended her life with the help from a horrible, online suicide forum on May 22, 2019 as she battled mental illness, depression, and anxiety.
While our lives have been forever shattered after tragically losing our beloved daughter, Shawn, we are empowered to fight back against ugly predators and to fight for our youth, to fight for life, and to fight for other Pennsylvania families in an attempt to spare them from this painful grief, while offering them hope.
Shawn lost her life to darkness but she did so with the HELP of darkness. Shawn died with the DIRECT assistance and encouragement from a horrific suicide website. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I looked at her phone that day and saw this website and the chatroom discussion she was having during her suicide.
Pure evil, cruelty, and darkness are all I can use to describe this horrific tragedy. A website that provides a menu on ways to die and the step-by-step instructions and recipes are all provided. The horror we’ve experienced these past two years has been excruciating and painful.
Our laws need to be updated due to how quickly technology is changing and ruling our worlds. Today, through Shawn’s Law, we are toughening penalties and sending a clear and LOUD message to anyone out there, that we WILL NOT TOLERATE helping anyone end their life! And, that there are REAL consequences and stiff penalties awaiting and to leave our children alone! We are leading the way right here in Pennsylvania!
While more needs to be done, this is a first step in the right direction. Our youth and young adults like our daughter Shawn are too weak and naïve. Next…We must work on adequately funding our mental health system, offering incentives to mental health professionals to attract people to the profession, and providing ample funding for our mental health and Intellectual Disabilities or IDD programs. And work to shut down these horrific sites out there. Why?
Did you know…According to the CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019,
- Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 48,344 people.
- Suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.
- The 4th leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
- There were nearly two and half times as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides.
- 1.4 million is the number of suicide attempts in the U.S.
- There is an average of 130 suicides daily in this country.
- That was BEFORE the pandemic hit. The number of suicides has skyrocketed during COVID-19. The pandemic’s impact on individuals across our state and across this country has heightened mental health illnesses and challenges!
Remember, there is always help and hope out there! Thank YOU!