Facebook sends family information about son’s page before his suicide

Posted at 8:27 AM, Nov 04, 2011

NOTTOWAY COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - A small victory today for a Nottoway County family who's been fighting Facebook for months to gain access to their 15 year old son's account.

We shared the heartbreaking story of Eric Rash last week. The straight- A Nottoway High School student who took his own life last January.

In a desperate search for answers, Diane and Ricky Rash contacted Facebook to try and gain access to their son's Facebook page, but were denied access because of privacy policies.

The family has since been urging lawmakers to get social networking sites to change their policies regarding minors.

The family was contacted by Facebook this week, and told they would be receiving a cd with all of Eric's correspondence prior to his death.

The company did not say whether it was considering changing its privacy policies.

Original story posted Nov. 4, 2011:

NOTTOWAY COUNTY, VA (WTVR) - On a quiet dairy farm in Nottoway County, Ricky and Diane Rash say they were at peace raising their four children, including their only son, Eric.

Eric was an avid hunter and fisherman, and his father's right-hand man on the farm.

"He loved to help," says Ricky Rash. "He was very kind and gentle."

In many ways, the Rashes say their son was all boy - he loved soccer, football and baseball, but his true passion was reading. Diane says her son read everyday and kept a log of his favorite titles.
"I read him his first Harry Potter book, and he took off from there."

By the age of 6, Eric was making straight A's and headlines in the local paper for his academic success. By the time he was 12, he had his sights set on Virginia Tech and Harvard Law School.

"It came easy to him," explains Diane. "For him to get a B, he really had to throw a test."

But underneath Eric's shy and happy demeanor, he was hurting. That's something his family says he never revealed by words or emotions.

"Not once," says Diane. "He always had a smile on his face ... always."

It was in the early hours of January 20th, that the Rashes were awakened by a call from a 911 dispatcher. It would be the worst call of their lives.

"She (the dispatcher) says, 'Ricky, I don't mean to upset you but Eric's on Harper Road and he says he's found a dead body,'" explains Eric’s father. "I said, 'Eric's in the bed asleep!’”

After discovering that Eric was not in the house, Ricky frantically hurried to the remote location, just five miles from their country home.

"And I could see something in the field," says Ricky chocking back tears. "I couldn't see his face, but I knew it was Eric - it was the car, the books, my gun under him, so I knew it was him."

Eric had committed suicide, but not before leaving letters for his parents, three younger sisters and his grandmother.

"He told us all he was sorry," says Ricky.

Eric also left requests for his funeral, including asking his family to play the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow," a song his mother used to sing to him.

Diane says hundreds of people filled their tiny Nottoway County church for the service. The crowd of mourners was so large, some people had to listen in from nearby Sunday school rooms.

"Instead of the six pallbearers that we had picked out, about twenty people came and took his casket," sobbed Diane. "Everybody wanted to put their hand on it."

But why did the 15-year-old choose to take his own life? The letters he wrote left little explanation.

"He just said if life after high school was worse than high school, then he didn't want to be in it,” says Diane.

Desparate for more answers, the Rashes say they turned to Eric's close friends and classmates at Nottoway High School.

"I knew things were going on and it wasn't easy for him," says 17-year-old Anna Stansfield.

"But he was good at hiding it," adds friend Trenzas Whitley.

At the urging of Eric's friends and law enforcment in Nottoway County, the Rashes began looking through Eric's e-mails and social networking sites.

Eric had an account with Facebook, but his family says he changed his password just days before his death. The Rashes say they tried for days to guess his new password, but kept being denied access to the site.

"Without access to the full account, we could read his wall, but we couldn't access his messages," says Ricky.

As a last resort, the Rashes contacted Facebook to get Eric's password. The family, at Facebook's request, later sent a copy of Eric's death certificate.

But within days, the Rashes say they received an e-mail from Facebook, denying access to Eric's full account.

"They said they just couldn't give it to us," says Ricky.

Facebook, citing user privacy policies, informed the Rashes that they could deactivate Eric's account or memorialize it, but they couldn't gain full access to it, even though Eric was a minor.

"Facebook just blew us off," says Ricky. "They just literally blew us off."

Absolutely stunned by Facebook's policy, the Rashes contacted state and federal lawmakers. However, their requests for help were all met with the same response - federal laws simply had not kept up with social media, therefore parents had few rights.

Travis Andrews, a teacher and coach in Nottoway County, says a large number of middle and high school students are on Facebook today. Andrews helps coordinate his school's anti-bullying programs, but says social media has made it increasingly difficult for teachers and administrators to control this type of harassment.

"It's so fast," says Andrews. "Social media is so fast, you put something out there and it's out there for good."

Even Eric's classmates admit not enough parents are aware of what their children are reading and writing on social networking sites.

"People will abuse it to the fullest degree that they can today," says 16-year-old Seth Hinton. "Twitter, e-mail ... everything."

While you have to be 13 years old to have an account with Facebook, the company tells CBS 6 that even young teenagers have the right to privacy. The company says without a court order, even parents cannot gain access to their child’s account information.

Facebook explained, "Our policies are based on industry standard practices and, it is our knowledge, every major Internet company has the same policy."

"Parents don't understand that there is no way to have any parental control over social media," says Diane. "Emails, faceook - it doesn't matter. There are no controls."

Nearly a year after Eric's death, the Rash family says they still have no answers.

"Losing a child hurts more than anything that you'll ever experience," says Ricky. "We lost our baby boy."

"We don't want anyone else to go through that," adds Diane.

The Rashes say they are continuing to plead with Facebook to release Eric's password, and they are urging lawmakers to create legislation that gives parents access to their children's social networking accounts.

"The recurring theme that we keep telling one another is something good has got to come of this," says the grieving father. "We can't let this tragedy be the tragedy that it is."