By TROY BRECHT, firstname.lastname@example.org
QUAD CITIES --- Justin Reedy sat down in front of the computer in his parents' basement, loaded a single bullet into a five-chamber revolver and logged onto his Twitter account.
Anyone could have found the messages he started posting online in the very early hours of July 13. But Reedy was directing them to his close friend, Josh Benson, who died in a car crash four days earlier.
(1:30 a.m.) It's not funny anymore, if it ever was. I saw you lying in a box today and couldn't accept it. I'll spend every waking moment of my
(1:36 a.m.) miserable, short life waiting for you to jump out of the woodwork to make fun of me for ever feeling. Seriously, bro, not funny.
Over the next 36 minutes, the 29-year-old from rural East Moline authored a series of "Tweets" - bursts of online prose limited to 140 characters - that eventually would be read by thousands of people across the Quad Cities and the Internet.
The fallout would be felt beyond his immediate family and circle of acquaintances. The dissemination - by e-mail, on Facebook and other social networking sites - created rifts between grieving friends.
The messages brimmed with rage and regret. He typed, agonizing over the loss of his friend, until it became clear to him. He would either cry himself to sleep, or shoot himself.
(1:43 a.m.) The day they delete your account will be the day it hits me where it counts. Until that day, you still live in my electronic mind.
Josh Benson was to be married on July 11. Reedy met up with his friend - with whom he often shared philosophical thoughts and sometimes goofy, random ideas - at the Blue Cat Brew Pub in Rock Island on June 27 for a bachelor party.
"We played some pool, walked around The District for a while," said Jeff Bull, three years older than Reedy and a sort of big brother to him. "It was a very mellow bachelor party. He was in a great mood, making a lot of jokes and having a lot of fun."
(1:47 a.m.) I dedicate this next round of Russian roulette to you. If you disapprove you can spend the next eternity reaming me in the afterlife.
Reedy's parents proudly related their son had an IQ over 180, was a deep thinker and generally happy guy. He had a library of around 5,000 books, which he often read in the backyard gazebo, even in the middle of a freezing winter night.
During the Brew-Ha-Ha beer festival last year, his close friend Becky Bull Schaefer remembered meeting up with him as he sipped from a flask.
"He didn't really like beer all that much, but he liked us," she said, referring to the close-knit group of friends who attended Riverdale Senior High School in Port Byron in the late 1990s.
(1:49 a.m.) I made it through the first round no problem. I didn't even flinch when I put the gun to my head. Round 2 . . . Success!
Two days before his wedding, Benson missed a curve and struck a light pole around 2 a.m. as he drove home from work as a manager of a Cedar Rapid's Men's Wearhouse. None of Reedy's friends or his parents remember how he got the news but recall it upset him.
His first impulse, Reedy's mother Pam said, was to help the Benson family. The day after the crash, Reedy dug through boxes in the family's storeroom, looking for pictures of Benson and his friends from high school and beyond. With an armful of photos, he fired up the computer and started scanning them in, eventually making a DVD of memories he presented to the Benson family to show at the July 12 visitation.
(1:51 a.m.) Third time is a charm. If I make it through this, you are watching over me. If not, you could use some good company . . . . Annnnnnnd....
Craig Weeks, another Riverdale graduate, hung out with Reedy and 10 other guys from high school the night before Benson's visitation. Having a few beers, they gathered around a television to watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout.
"Justin was in a really, really good mood," Weeks said. "I talked to him about Josh's death, asked him if he was OK, and he said he was." At the visitation, Reedy carried around a pint glass from Benson's favorite bar.
(1:54 a.m.) I live to fight another day. Josh, thank you for everything. Even in death you made me a better person. No lie.
Late on the night of the 12th, after the visitation and the get-together afterward, Reedy headed down into the family room with his dad, Joe. As they watched "Burn After Reading" from the large, L-shaped couch surrounded by artwork created by members of the Reedy clan, they talked about life and death.
Joe Reedy, a retired East Moline cop who served 32 years, said it appeared his son was coming to accept his friend's death. He showed no signs of being suicidal.
"That's something I'm trained to notice," he said. "He knew how I felt, especially about suicide, because I'd talked so many people out of it in the past. We talked and talked about Josh and the visitation. He made a comment that he probably could deal with the death of his parents now that he was dealing with the death of a close friend."
(2:02 a.m.) Why the f-- won't you let me die. I've put this gun to my face 5 times now with no regard, and still nothing. One more time with feeling.
Tired, Joe Reedy went upstairs to bed a little before 1 a.m. on July 12. He and Pam - who worked third shift her whole career and was a night owl - told Justin they loved him and reminded him to turn off the computer before bed.
(2:06 a.m.) Well f-- you then, Try to keep me alive from beyond (sic) the grave, will you. i'm going to force you to make me shoot myself or cry to sleep.
Pam Reedy got up, noted that the clock upstairs reading 2:04 a.m. was still running slow after a storm knocked out the power a few weeks ago, and started toward the stairs to remind Justin one more time about turning off the computer.
"I was right at the door to the basement when I heard the shot," she said.
Pam Reedy started screaming, fearing the worst. Joe Reedy, a Vietnam combat vet, grabbed the gun next to his bed and charged toward the basement. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he knew there was no intruder.
Pam reached Justin first and began performing CPR.
"I went into nurse mode," she said. "Joe and I were both crying and pleading. He had a really strong pulse. But I knew, even though he was still alive, he wasn't really alive. I saw the bullets lying on the table. I didn't understand, because he'd just seen his friends and he seemed OK."
For a Twitter user, Reedy had a relatively small number of followers - 39 - but his Tweets were also broadcast to the world as they unfolded in the middle of the night between a Sunday and Monday. It is believed no one was actively following his Tweets in real time. But that doesn't make his decision to post in such a public manner any less of a cry for help, several of his friends said.
"He knew how public it was," Bull Schaefer said. "He even changed his (Twitter) name from something pretty obscure to his actual name. I think he wanted to have that conversation publicly, even though he addressed it to Josh."
Dr. Dave McEchron, a psychologist and director of Genesis Psychology Associates, said people who kill themselves are often raging against themselves. Today's networked, wired society gives the victim a wider audience, he said.
"They are hurting inside and they want to see everyone else suffer," he said. "They can't see beyond themselves."
Reedy's chilling chronicle of his final moments spread rapidly, like a virus. Several people, including Bull Schaefer, posted his Twitter feed on their Facebook pages. Others e-mailed it. Within days, hundreds, maybe thousands of people - some who knew Reedy and Benson and some who did not - had read the account.
The sharing led to some hurt feelings.
Bull Schaefer said she received quite a bit of criticism for posting the Twitter feed. But she has no regrets.
"I'm someone who believes that events happen and you can choose to have them help you or they can paralyze you," she said. "I read those last few statements of conflict and I hope it can help me in the future, if I see another friend speaking that way, to be more aware to realize that maybe I should do or say something to remind them that they're loved and there's a reason for them to be here."
Weeks fell on the other side of the divide.
"For people to find out about it that way, it's just not good," he said. "It's not my thing, and I don't really think something as serious as this should be broadcast that widely. I think maybe people could get a wrong idea about Justin and I don't think that's fair. I don't want Justin portrayed solely by this incident or the Twitter thing. That wasn't all who he was."
For Jeff Bull, though, the Twitter feed brought closure.
"I was very happy to get to read it," he said. "It gave me a much better idea of what had gone on. If there had been no Twitter feed, there would have been a lot of unanswered questions."
Police took Reedy's computer as part of the death investigation. Pam and Joe Reedy did not see the Twitter feed for nearly two weeks. Pam Reedy said she takes some comfort from reading her son's final thoughts.
"I'm kind of glad it came out that it was Russian roulette and not just an out-and-out suicide," she said. "I hope this makes people know it's not a game. This generation is so much on video games, and I don't think they realize how important life is."
Joe Reedy said he worries others who read the feed may become copycats. McEchron said that is a legitimate concern.
"There can often be a wish to join the person who died," he said. "That's why you sometimes get contagious kinds of stuff. Recently, in Camanche, there was a succession of seven suicides in a short amount of time. Even people not connected, who do not know Justin, if they see that he acted on it, it could act as a sort of stimulus."
Shortly after Justin's death, his sister, Joella, said she thought her brother felt he was at a point where there was nothing more he could do and he just wanted to go and be with Josh, Joe Reedy said. He, too, believes that's the case.
"He had a dark corner; he definitely did," he said.
WATCHING OUT FOR FRIENDS
In the weeks since Justin's death, the fragile circle of friends who lost two members in one week are spending more time looking out for each other, Bull Schaefer said.
"Everyone has been very paranoid about everyone and who is spending time with whom," she said. "People were getting together every night after work, to keep tabs on each other."
Jeff Reed knows some people feel a trust was violated by the widespread sharing of the Twitter feed. Still, he hopes it can give others closure and, perhaps, somehow prevent another suicide from happening.
"It's a huge deal that Justin had this on Twitter," he said. "But whether or not that directly affects Justin's family or some friends, and their grieving, that's hard to say. I think that's part of the problem with this situation. People feel if other people in the world are reading this - they are sharing my grieving without my permission. But that's the network. You have yourself inside."
Wow. This is amazing. Too bad someone couldn't have stopped him.