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The Sad, Public Struggles of Etika and More Shocking YouTube Star Tragedies

Reminders of the importance of mental health awareness, especially among the YouTube set, have poured in since the body of the 29-year-old gamer was found in New York, five days after he went missing

By Natalie Finn Jun 26, 2019 4:15 PMTags
Related: Remembering Etika: YouTubers React to His Death

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.

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Celebrity Deaths: 2019's Fallen Stars

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."

etika via Instagram

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 said he was again posting to his original channel, TR1Iceman, which currently has upward of 136,000 followers.

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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."

NYPD CRIME STOPPERS

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.

Emily Hartridge

The British YouTube star died on Friday, July 12 after an electric scooter accident. Her fans were notified of her passing via Instagram on Saturday.

"Hi everyone. This is a horrible thing to have to say over Instagram but we know many of you were expecting to see Emily today and this is the only way to contact you all at once," a message on her Instagram account read. "Emily was involved in an accident yesterday and passed away. We all loved her to bits and she will never be forgotten. She has touched so many lives it's hard to imagine things without her," the message concluded. "She was a very special person xxx."
 

 

 

Pedro Ruiz III

Her YouTube channel, La MonaLisa, featuring snippets from their daily life and silly pranks (Perez giving Ruiz a donut dusted with baby powder instead of powdered sugar, etc.) hadn't really taken off, so the Minnesota couple decided to up the ante. 

Ruiz planned to inaugurate a new channel, Dammit Boy, with a video of Perez shooting him in the chest through an inch-and-a-half-thick hardback encyclopedia. He had practiced by shooting at another thick book to ensure it would stop a bullet.

"My channel is going to consist of a lot of crazy stuff," the 22-year-old Ruiz said in June 2017 in what was intended to be Dammit Boy's debut video. "Entertainment just for you guys. My thing is crazy...With this being my first video, I hope to capture all my audience, like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"I can't do this babe, I am so scared. My heart is beating…" Perez said as he encouraged her to shoot. "Babe, if I kill you what's going to happen to my life? Like, no this isn't okay… I don't want to be responsible." He assured her it would be fine, so long as she hit the book (where he had scribbled in the middle, "plz hit here") and she pulled the trigger.

"Oh, s--t," Ruiz said as he realized he had been shot. He was dead before he could be airlifted to a hospital.

"I really have no idea what they were thinking," Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton told the New York Times. "I just don't understand the younger generation on trying to get their 15 minutes of fame."

A transcript from the never-posted video was part of a criminal case against Perez, who was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Also as part of her reported plea deal, she was forbidden from profiting in any way from her truly bizarre story and barred for life from possessing a firearm.

She resumed vlogging in July 2018.

In a video called "It's Not Just Easy, which has over 12,000 views, Perez says, "A sadness came over me deeply, it feels like. I miss Pedro a lot, guys. I've really learned to not show any of my emotions. I've really suppressed all of my feelings inside of me because I don't want to feel anything. It's really hard for me to get emotional now...I do cry, but not often. Especially not in front of people."

Messy Mya

"What happened at the New Orleans?"

The voice asking that poignant question as Beyoncé's "Formation" video kicks off with the singer perched on top of a half-submerged cop car, belonged to Messy Mya, a YouTube star who was murdered in November 2010, shot to death after attending a baby shower for his unborn son. His real name was Anthony Barre and he was 22.

The comedian and bounce rapper had became a polarizing local celebrity with his videos that showed him roaming around the city, cracking jokes, more or less harassing passersby and ranting about people he didn't like, but also commenting on post-Hurricane Katrina life.

"You know everybody watch this camera," he said in one video. "You got to understand how powerful this camera is. Understand your words on this camera. Understand that people not only from New Orleans is watching this video, bitch, they got people from Milwaukee."

According to NOLA.com, hours before his death he had paid tribute to a deceased friend on Facebook, writing, "I'll be there soon."

He unwittingly went viral in death when a photo of his body was leaked online, which is how most of his fans got the news.

A 24-year-old man confessed to the killing and spent three years in prison, including 18 months in psychiatric care, but was released in 2013 after new evidence was found proving he wasn't present when the shooting occurred. The man's attorney told NOLA.com that his client was bipolar and hadn't been on his medication when he confessed. 

Caleb Logan "Bratayley"

The family known by their vlog-star name, the Bratayleys, were a big hit with the YouTube crowd with their kid-friendly antics unfolding online, racking up over 1.5 million subscribers.

But most people first heard of the Bratayleys when 13-year-old son Caleb Logan LeBlanc died suddenly—of natural causes, the family said—in October 2015 and no other information was immediately forthcoming. 

"We know you tune in to watch each day and eagerly anticipate new videos, but ask that you bear with us while we deal with this tragedy as a family," mom Katie LeBlanc wrote in confirming the news on Instagram, which was so sad and shocking that at first fans thought the account must have been hacked.

The family later shared that Caleb died of a previously undetected heart condition, which prompted them to have his two sisters, Hayley and Annie, screened for disease (their hearts looked normal). "Caleb didn't have any symptoms so the doctor said there was nothing we could have done differently," read a post from the family that November.

Looking to quell lingering suspicion that something more nefarious had happened to Caleb, according to Salon, local police issued a statement saying there was nothing suspicious or possibly criminal about his death.

As of June 2019, the Brataley channel had more than 7.2 million subscribers and 14-year-old Annie LeBlanc—singer, gymnast and star of several productions on YouTube's Brat network—has 3.6 million subscribers of her own. Hayley is getting there, with 1.3 million.

Christina Grimmie

She earned wider acclaim competing on The Voice in 2014, but Grimmie first found an audience on YouTube, where her covers of songs by artists such as Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Sia attracted over a million subscribers.

A 2010 cover with fellow YouTuber Sam Tsui of Nellie's "Just a Dream" went viral, attracting over 116 million views, after which she signed on as a backup singer for Selena Gomez.

So, Grimmie was used to keeping up with fans and admirers on social media long before The Voice won her millions more fans. 

It was a deranged fan who shot and killed her while she was signing autographs and posing for selfies following a performance in Orlando at The Plaza Live in June 2016. Authorities were told afterward that the gunman had become obsessed with Grimmie over the past year. He thought the singer was his "soulmate" and he "watched everything having to do with her." But, according to a friend of the shooter, he had never talked about guns or harming Grimmie.

Grimmie's brother tackled the shooter, who then killed himself.

Lil Peep

The "Falling Down" rapper (born Gustav Åhr) had surpassed online fame by the time he died of a toxic combination of fentanyl and Xanax two weeks after his 21st birthday in November 2017, but YouTube and SoundCloud were where he was first discovered—and he continued to share intimate details of his life on social media.

Hours before he died, he wrote on Instagram, "When I die you'll love me. But then I don't want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don't let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that's temporary. One day maybe I won't die young and I'll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it's gone. I'm getting so tired of this."

Wu Yongning

In November 2017, the martial artist and stuntman—who first gained fame posting videos of his climbing exploits on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo—was being livestreamed when he fell off a 62-story skyscraper in the Hunan capital of Changsha (and the video is still out there showing Wu losing his grip and disappearing from sight).

He was scaling the building, which he did without any sort of safety gear, as part of a "rooftopping" challenge that offered a $20,000 prize—money that he needed because he planned to propose to his girlfriend the next day and wanted to help his sick mother, his family told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald.

The accident wasn't immediately reported, but fans got worried when he suddenly stopped updating his Weibo account.

A month after his death, Wu's girlfriend tweeted, "Today is December 8th. It makes me think of November 8th, the day you left us and left this world."

Having sued several of the livestreaming apps that provided a forum for Wu's stunts, his family was awarded $4,300 in damages in May 2019 from Huoshan, per the Morning Herald. The Beijing Internet Court ruled that the app maker should bear a "minor responsibility" for the fatal accident.

Ryker Gamble, Alexey Lyakh & Megan Scraper

In July 2018, Gamble and Lyakh, vloggers for travel channel High on Life—which aims to "inspire our viewers to get out and explore the world" and features lots of climbing, diving, plunging and other enviably adventurous activity amid gorgeous scenery—and Scraper fell almost 100 feet to their deaths while swimming atop Shannon Falls in British Columbia.

 

Ryker Gamble, Alexey Lyakh & Megan Scraper

Apparently Scraper, Lyakh's girlfriend, fell first, plunging into another pool of water down below, and in an attempt to save her Gamble and Lyakh were swept away as well.

"It looks beautiful, it's a sunny day, but given the extensive water flow that comes off the mountains, and the number of incidents that we've had in the Squamish area lately, people just need to be prepared," Cpl. Sascha Banks of the Squamish Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement to the Vancouver Sun after their bodies had been recovered.

On June 8, 2019, Gamble's partner Alissa Hansen posted a tribute to him, one of many from the past year, concluding, "There really is no antidote / I hope you can hear me / It's hard to be strong all the time / I just wish you could be here beside me, looking at the ocean / It's beautiful."

Etika

The 29-year-old gamer from Brooklyn, whose real name was Desmond Amofah, vaulted to YouTube stardom with his fiery treatises on video games. Eventually, however, he became known for his erratic behavior, Twitter rants and disturbing comments about death. Fans sensed that something bad had happened after he went missing on June 19, 2019, his last post being a nearly 8-minute video in which he apologized repeatedly for pushing so many people away.

Etika was found dead in the water near Manhattan's South Street Seaport on June 24, and police are investigating.

Nasim Aghdam

The frustrated (and ultimately disturbed) vlogger claimed that YouTube—which had just changed its ad revenue sharing policy—was preventing her videos raging against animal cruelty and advocating a vegan lifestyle from being seen and making money.

"I'm being discriminated and filtered on YouTube," Aghdam lamented online. "And I'm not the only one."

On April 3, 2018, she opened fire at the company's San Bruno, Calif., headquarters. Three people were wounded before she fatally shot herself.

"This is a significant concern in our new social media culture," Thomas G. Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, told the San Jose Mercury News at the time. "Folks see others becoming rich and famous overnight via YouTube and other similar social media outlets and they conclude that they can too. When things don't work out as planned, many become despondent that their fantasies have not been realized."

"If I was a betting man I would put my money on more of these stories in the future," Plante said. "It is chilling indeed."

Alesha MacPhail

The aspiring YouTube star, who had loved watching videos online, was 6 years old when she was murdered while staying with relatives on Scotland's Isle of Bute during her summer vacation in July 2018. (Aaron Campbell, 16 when he sexually assaulted and killed Alesha, has been sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.)

After her funeral in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, Alesha's parents posted a video to YouTube of her chattering away happily about pasta and recipes.

"Alesha always wanted to be a youtube blogger and now unfortunately my darling baby girl will no longer be able to become a youtube blogger so I ask for the power or everyone to share this video as far as it can go and her dream come true for her," her mother wrote on social media.

The original video has been viewed more than 67,000 times. Comments have been disabled, because... YouTube commenters.

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)

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).