Fame, online trolling and fragile mental health can be a combustible combination.
The search for Desmond Amofah, a YouTube personality and gamer known as Etika—known for his humorous and profane takes on video games that attracted more than 845,000 subscribers but also for sharing content that got him kicked off of Twitch and, on a few occasions, YouTube—came to a sad ending Monday night when his body was found floating in the water near Manhattan's South Street Seaport.
The 29-year-old had been missing since June 19 and friends and fans had been deeply concerned that he was going to harm himself because, thanks to social media, they were acutely aware of his struggles. YouTube and Reddit promptly turned into content hubs for people digging into Etika's disappearance as they shared theories and tidbits about his last days, wondering what had happened to him and recalling recent turmoil.
What appears to be his last social media post, which he shared right before he went missing, is making the rounds online and in it he says, as he's walking, "I'm sorry I betrayed your trust. I'm sorry I pushed you all away. I'm sorry I had made a clown of myself. I apologize. I wish it didn't have to be this way.
"But unfortunately, I'm breaking my own rules...I shouldn't have pushed so many people away. Now I've got nobody."
Judging by the outpouring of condolences online, that wasn't true—but that rarely makes a difference when someone is determined to harm himself.
That being said, no cause of death has been determined yet and the investigation is ongoing, according to the NYPD.
After his YouTube channel vanished in April, Etika scared his followers with what sounded like suicidal thoughts, tweeting, "Savonarola! I'm going to kill myself! You lot certainly have already. Shame on you all, silly humans." He also tweeted, per The Daily Dot, "I am about to shoot myself in the forehead, with a pistol I purchased from a gun shop in long island. Bury me in Broooooooooooooooooooooooooooooklyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyynnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn."
His friend, gamer Alice Pika, chimed in, "He's being sent to the hospital, I'm not saying where. He's physically UNHARMED. I'm letting his loved ones know. Pray for him."
Nine days later, he tweeted, "Back! Sorry for scaring ya with that tweet. Being born and raised on the dark side of the internet, I sometimes go too far in my attempts at edgy shock humor. I've apologized on similar instances in the past I know, so just trust when I say I learned my lesson. CUSOON!"
He added, "Deleted my channel because it got a copyright strike a few weeks back for a piece of music that played from a video I watched while on stream. I forgot to delete the vod, and it got a strike the day after. Meaning I couldn't stream on frfx anymore. Decided to do 1 channel then."
Etika made news at the end of April when he livestreamed being detained by police (Pika tweeted: "Quick Etika update: A doctor just called me. He has NOT been arrested, he's not going to jail. He's at the mental ward of a hospital again, not saying where. I gave her as much information as I could that would make sure he STAYS in there for longer than a day!!!") and then sat down for an interview with Drama Alert vlogger Keem that took an immediate turn for the dark.
"Death means nothing," Etika said. "Why are you all so scared of death for?...Everything that you've done in your life, Keemstar, was all leading up to this moment. Where you can broadcast the start of the beginning of the rise of the known antichrist. I am the antichrist, I am the one who brings death to all."
Asked if his recent erratic behavior was authentic or if he was putting on an act for attention and clicks, Etika said, "No, this is my world. You are playing in my game." After he was detained, "I went, I became God, and I walked out."
Keem tweeted before the chat was posted, "Recorded a interview with @Etika He started yelling & RAGE QUIT! He mad cus i called him out for being WEAK!"
But Keem has also mused openly about the effects that the sort of viral, 24/7 exchange with fans and trolls that is at the heart of social media-fueled fame is having on YouTube stars' mental health—and he was among those tweeting at YouTube today to make sure Etika's "I'm sorry" video wasn't taken down.
In the meantime, Etika isn't the only one whose story has ended badly after finding—or sometimes just seeking—fame on YouTube, a medium that has rewarded not just the talented and enterprising, but also the outrageous, the shocking, the bizarre and even the dangerous with clicks, likes, attention, adulation and, in some cases, money.
It's a platform by the people, for the people—for better or worse.
After James Charles and Tati Westbrook publicly feuded last month, with supporters and haters rushing to their respective corners to throw daggers, prompting Charles to cancel a tour and lose 1 million followers, fellow YouTuber and former Amazing Race contestant Joey Graceffa admitted he was relieved that nothing much, much worse happened than a war of words.
"I mean, what he went through is something that no human should ever have to experience, like, that level of intensity," Graceffa told ET in May. "It's surprising that he didn't like, kill himself. And I feel like it's going to get to that point where someone who isn't as strong as James is going to get to the point where they believe what people are saying."
The Internet star, who was promoting a jewelry line called Crystal Wolf, knows what it's like to be under virtual attack. He stuck his foot in his mouth in 2013 when he took to his vlog to rant about being towed, only to have the YouTube user responsible for the tow reveal—with a photographic receipt—that Graceffa had been squarely blocking his driveway.
"I remember when I had my scandal," he continued, "I had those thoughts too—'Oh my god, people really hate me, maybe I should kill myself.' So, I feel like it could get to that point and cancel culture needs to tone it down."
Update, 7:55 a.m. PT: The NYC chief medical examiner's office determined that Etika's death was a suicide by drowning.
(Originally published June 26, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)