This Is Where I Hang

The Whole Katelyn Nicole Davis Story

 

In the early evening hours of December 30, 2016, a twelve-year-old girl from rural Georgia walked unnoticed from her family home, prepared a noose, hung it from a tree, and took her own life by short-drop strangulation.

Her name was Katelyn Nicole Davis. She was born in Rome, Georgia, on February 20, 2004. She would have been thirteen now.

Cases of preteen suicide are rising, but there is something unusual about Katelyn’s: the entire incident, from the young girl’s eerily calm preparations to the chilling silence that descends after her death, will remain documented on the Internet forever.

Katelyn’s suicide was livestreamed on a popular app for teens known as Live.me. Archived chat logs from the stream reveal that at least one viewer attempted to stop Katelyn, while another taunted and encouraged her. Other viewers may have logged off before the moment of death, believing it to be a prank. It’s unclear, due to the anonymous nature of the app, who many of the viewers’ identities actually are.

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The fact that the video remains easily accessible, even months after the fact, is unsettling, but not particularly surprising. It has been shared so many times through various social media platforms, most notably Facebook, that local law enforcement feel their hands are tied. They are powerless to remove what has become nothing short of a viral phenomenon.

The entire video is 42 minutes long. Roughly half of it consists of Katelyn’s body hanging lifeless while the sun gradually sets around her. Off-camera, typical rural outdoor noise occasionally breaks the silence. Dogs bark in the distance. Eventually, Katelyn’s cell phone rings, and a woman—her mother—begins calling her name.

While it is unnerving to consider that, as a society, we have become so desensitized to shocking content that footage of a child committing suicide has been willingly viewed and shared by millions of individuals, the video is significant for another reason.

The night of Katelyn’s death was not the first time she had used Live.me. It wasn’t even the first time disturbing and borderline violent content had appeared on her livestreams.

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Katelyn streamed virtually every day during the month of December, including Christmas Day, and never seemed too far away from her phone, seemingly using the digital world as an escape from her real-world surroundings.

Except for the rare times when she ventured outside to wander the family’s rural property, Katelyn streamed in her bedroom, a squalid space with peeling paint on the walls, an old mattress, and water-damaged floors. Most of the time, she appeared to be the sole caregiver of her young step-siblings, Abbigail and A.J.

The toddlers are a near-constant presence in Katelyn’s livestreams, rough-housing and climbing on furniture in the background. It would seem that Katelyn cooked for them, cared for them, and kept them entertained, sometimes for very long stretches at a time, as their other had a tendency to leave the house for hours at a time with no explanation.

This was not a secret to Katelyn’s viewers. On camera, she was candid about her dysfunctional family situation and personal struggle with depression, for which she had been prescribed Prozac. She made reference to at least one former suicide attempt and the hospitalization that followed.

She discussed how her mother, Tammy Rogers, used and sold prescription medication to make end’s meet—and alleged that her stepfather, Anthony Rogers, was physically and sexually abusive to her.

The implicit cries for help may have been enough to cause alarm, but in one stream, she explicitly talked about writing her will.

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When a twelve-year-old discusses her mortality the way most of us talk about the weather, why don’t people take notice? The truth is, many Facebook users who watched the suicide video remain unaware of the fact that Katelyn actually documented much more of her life. The media, strangely, has largely ignored the digital presence she left behind.

Katelyn began detailing her daily life using the pseudonym “ITZDolly” on various social networks at least three weeks prior to her death. In her online journal “Diary of a Broken Doll,” she writes what appear to be at least semi-autobiographical accounts of her experiences. Common themes are parental neglect, extreme poverty, and childhood sexual abuse.

Her writing style is eloquent and refined; she comes across as intelligent and well-spoken, wise beyond her years. It seems difficult to imagine that the girl who wrote these posts is the same who appears on the livestreams, screaming profanities at her mother off-screen and casually throwing around racial slurs in the presence of her young stepbrother.

Her family is a classic example of the forgotten side of America: living below the poverty line, lacking resources to obtain higher education, doing their best to get by on food stamps and donations from friends. The family supported Donald Trump and hung a confederate flag in their living room. They were self-proclaimed Christians.

Living in a highly isolated rural part of the south, Katelyn mimicked what she saw and heard from uneducated adults with bigoted and racist attitudes. A child as young as Katelyn can hardly be blamed for inheriting prejudices.

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Katelyn’s biological father, Matthew Reed Davis, was completely absent from her life. He refused to pay child support, and according to his daughter, spent more time “sitting around playing video games” than helping to raise the child he brought into the world. When Katelyn was being housed in the in-patient psychiatric ward after her first suicide attempt, her father never made an appearance.

As far as we know, there were little to no positive male role models in Katelyn’s life. It is important to keep this in mind when you consider that much of the young girl’s time on Live.me was spent seeking attention from much older men.

At her young age, Katelyn had learned how to play a convincing role, flipping her hair and batting her eyelashes in a surreal and disturbing imitation of adult sexuality. She lied about her age, claiming that she had already had her thirteenth birthday, and accepted invitations to join shady “teen modeling” websites. She believed that she had been contacted by a representative for Disney who wanted to make her an actress.

She was, obviously, too young to know better. Her viewers were predominantly older men aware that they were watching the private life of an underage girl. Predators like her “online boyfriend” Luke Callahan, nineteen years old and living in Massachusetts, seemed to be more than happy to take advantage of her vulnerability.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that at some point before Katelyn’s death, Luke’s behaviour became more sinister, and that he may have been at least indirectly responsible for her sudden descent into suicidal depression.

Most likely, his sexual harassment and coercion escalated soon after this. Katelyn broke up with Luke a few days before her death, explaining that he was beginning to make her feel uncomfortable, pressuring her to engage in things she was not prepared for.

Nonetheless, Luke’s validation was important to Katelyn. In her suicide video, he is the last person she addresses, when she apologizes for not being “good enough” and “pretty enough” to keep a boyfriend.

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It is not always advisable to treat depression in children and adolescents with SSRIs. While most children taking Prozac, the medication prescribed to Katelyn, experience only mild side effects such as restlessness and sleep changes, in extreme cases suicidal impulses can arise—and the antidepressants provide the boost of energy necessary to go through with that action.

From day to day, Katelyn appeared to jump back and forth between extreme depression and manic excitement. The difference is, at times, startling to witness. On the morning of her death, Katelyn offered no indication that she was feeling down, much less planning to asphyxiate herself with a rope a few hours later. She was talkative, bubbly, and appeared to be in good spirits.

Obviously, at some point during the course of the day, something changed. A simple setback apparently sent her spiraling. Whether the trigger was a medication-induced mood swing, an angry text from Luke, or an argument with her mother, by the end of the day Katelyn was dead. And no one will ever know why.

What is clear is that the system failed a child with a promising future.

Child protective services deemed Tammy Rogers, an unemployed single mother apparently struggling with opiate addiction, fit to raise two toddlers and one teenage girl in a home that was falling into disrepair.

What’s more, neither Tammy nor the authorities took Katelyn’s accusations of sexual abuse against her stepfather seriously.

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If you are left feeling deeply pained by this story, you are not alone. Katelyn’s untimely death has impacted millions of people, due to the viral spread of her suicide video, but not everyone’s fascination is morbid in nature. Others are genuinely concerned that the authorities will overlook the details implicating Luke Callahan, Anthony Rogers, and anonymous cyberbullies in Katelyn’s death.

The anonymous owner of a YouTube account called Justice4Katelyn has collected hours upon hours of footage revealing the intimate details of Katelyn’s horrifying home life, demystifying her final decision and holding her abusers accountable. Even very rare videos have made it onto YouTube thanks to anonymous investigators, including one home video depicting the family dancing to classic rock in their living room.

In retrospect, small details appear hauntingly prophetic. In one short video clip, when Katelyn points the camera at the family’s garage and says, “This is where I hang,” it is easy to forget that she was speaking colloquially.

In reality, Katelyn probably never really wanted to die; she just hoped that someone would listen to her, that her voice would not go unheard. Posthumously, it is resounding more loudly than she ever could have imagined.

Though her time with us was brief, Katelyn managed to leave a lasting mark. She was a gifted student, a talented writer, and a charismatic young personality. She was wise and introspective, sometimes engaging her viewers in thought-provoking philosophical discussions late at night on her livestreams.

Katelyn was due to switch schools in the new year, a change that may have been beneficial for her, as she had few friends to rely on and a lot of love to offer. She was bullied for “being emo,” and believed that such things were detrimental to young people’s self-esteem. You can watch her here, challenging others to show compassion towards those who are different.

If you are encouraged by Katelyn’s message of positivity, find ways to apply it to your own life. If a young teen in your life is battling depression, anxiety, or self-harm, do not dismiss their struggle. Be present. Watch for signs of suicidal ideation. A few simple words of encouragement may prevent another tragedy in your own community.

1 Comment

  • cmelwell says:

    Carly- This is a phenomenal piece. No one has captured a clear picture of events with such accuracy and truth. I would like to speak with you about permission to use this writing.

    Thank you in advance-
    Courtney

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