Merchant of Death
After Kenneth Law lost his job as a low-level cook at the Royal York hotel, he found another way to make money: peddling suicide kits on the internet. Now, he’s been linked to the deaths of over 100 people around the world—and their grieving families want justice
A note to readers: this story discusses suicide.
Sara and David Ramirez didn’t expect to have children. It wasn’t that they didn’t want kids. They were in their 30s, newly married and eager to start a family together. But a doctor had told Sara that, due to an old car-crash injury, it was unlikely that she’d be able to carry to term. The diagnosis was crushing, but the couple were healthy and otherwise happy. David had two kids from a previous marriage. Life, they told themselves, could have been worse.
Then, in 2001, a miracle: Sara got pregnant. She gave birth the following spring to a perfect, pudgy-cheeked baby. Sara and David revelled in their unexpected parenthood, taking their smiley toddler to the beaches of south Texas, near their home in Houston, and to historic lighthouses along the Gulf of Mexico. He was a precocious kid. By age eight, he’d memorized the periodic table. A few years later, he built a DIY smelter and began melting scrap metal into ingots for fun. (His parents put an end to that hobby when a failed experiment sent shrapnel shooting off the balcony of their third-floor apartment.) He assembled gaming rigs from computer components, keeping one PC for himself and giving others away to friends so they could play together. That was just their son—selfless to a fault. In his teens, he started displaying unusual behaviour: changing his clothes multiple times a day, washing his hands excessively, refusing to sit down at restaurants because he thought the chairs were dirty. After Sara and David sought professional help for him, doctors diagnosed autism spectrum disorder and OCD. Kids sometimes mocked his peculiarities, but he never responded in kind. He knew what it was like to be an outsider, and he didn’t want anyone else to feel that way.
The Ramirez family moved around—from Colorado to Texas to Michigan and back—and, over the years, the couple had two more kids, Matthew and Elijah. The weekend their eldest child turned 18, he sat down with his parents and said, “I gotta tell you something.” He explained that, though he had been assigned male at birth and lived his childhood as a boy, he knew in his heart that he was a girl. There were hardly any other trans people in their tiny mountain town of Montrose, Colorado, so he’d been afraid to come out. But it was time: from now on, her name was Noelle. “There are three ways I can do this,” she said. “I can do it here. I can disappear for five years and come back. Or I can just kill myself.”
Aghast at the thought of Noelle harming herself, David and Sara told her that they loved her and would support her in any way they could. They offered to pay for gender-affirming surgery. “We tried everything to make her happy,” David says.
David Ramirez didn’t know that, halfway across the continent, someone had already sold his daughter the substance that would end her life
Noelle’s friends showed the same support. Even strangers approached her to applaud her courage. Still, somehow Noelle couldn’t shake the feeling that she didn’t belong in the world. She applied for college—she wanted to be a nurse—but, deep down, she was anxious about growing up. When she thought about all the responsibilities and stresses of adulthood, she felt scared, not excited. David and Sara sent her to therapy, and Noelle hoped that the cloud hovering over her would lift. But, in her darkest moments, she entertained another possibility: What if she ended her life?
The first time Noelle said she was going to harm herself, her parents called the police in a panic. The hospital held her for 72 hours, which is standard practice for patients who arrive in a suicidal crisis. It would be the first stay of many. Over the next couple of years, Noelle returned to the psych ward every few months. Last January, not long after Noelle had moved a few hours away to attend college, Sara and David received a call from a hospital near her school. Their daughter had attempted suicide.
After Noelle returned home a few days later, the Ramirez family rallied around her. David and Sara took time off work. They cleared the house of knives, ropes, pills—anything that she might use to hurt herself. Her siblings showered her with love. Within a couple of weeks, Noelle’s mood started to lift. When David returned to work, his boss asked how she was doing. “I think we’re headed in the right direction,” David replied. He didn’t know that, halfway across the continent, someone had already sold his daughter the poisonous powder that would end her life.
That winter, a 57-year-old man named Kenneth Law sat alone posting about Star Trek on Facebook in the basement apartment of a split-level house in Mississauga. He’d earned an industrial engineering degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University. He’d landed increasingly impressive jobs in the tech sector and the federal government’s export-development agency. According to his CV, he then worked for the British aerospace firm that made the brakes for the Boeing 7E7 airliner. His future looked bright—and then he stalled. He bragged about launching his own tech start-up and being a high-powered CEO, but few of his acquaintances believed his stories, and by his early 50s, he was looking for work as a cook.
He applied to the kitchen at the Fairmont Royal York, the historic luxury hotel where Queen Elizabeth used to stay when she visited Toronto. It was disastrous from day one. Law couldn’t make tomato sauce. Even after training, he plated undercooked chicken. When co-workers offered constructive feedback, he parroted their advice sarcastically. According to a former colleague, it was common knowledge that the Royal York planned to let Law go at the end of his three-month probationary period. His supervisor reportedly tried to let him down easy, going on about the pace and intensity of the job. He asked Law whether he really wanted to have a kitchen career at his age. Law scoffed. At my age? Indignant, he complained to HR that he was being discriminated against. The union got involved, and ultimately, the hotel kept Law on.
On the line, Law was sluggish and prone to mistakes. After his colleagues complained about his performance, which they did often, management shuffled him around to different stations within the hotel’s massive network of kitchens. He was eventually tasked with cooking staff meals, but then hotel employees started grumbling. One former cook told me, “If he was cooking, the general consensus of the kitchen was that we didn’t go to the staff cafeteria to eat.”
Eventually, management invented a low-stakes role for him: preparing small room-service cheese platters. Law seemed satisfied with the low-effort task, and the dozens of other cooks were relieved to have him out of their way. He made few friends; most of his co-workers avoided him. When the kitchen staff tried to switch unions, Law surreptitiously leaked notes from staff meetings to the union they were trying to leave—the organization that had secured his job.
When Covid struck, the Royal York kitchen shut down. By then, Law had racked up more than $134,000 in debt and had just a few pieces of furniture and an old Lincoln Town Car to his name. Unable to find work, he declared bankruptcy.
Sodium nitrite is a fine white salt, commonly used as a curing agent for charcuterie meats and an antidote to cyanide. Outside of restaurants and hospitals, most people had likely never heard of it until 2018. That’s when an Australian euthanasia advocate named Philip Nitschke—the founder of Exit International, a more militant version of Dying With Dignity—started advertising the fact that the salt can be lethal in large high-purity doses. It stops red blood cells from delivering oxygen to the organs, suffocating the body from the inside out. Nitschke claimed that it was a relatively painless way to die, though people who survived suicide attempts have reported that it can induce nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, headaches and heart palpitations.
Suddenly, mentions of sodium nitrite began appearing on websites across the internet where people discuss suicide. One such forum is particularly popular and can get close to 10 million page views a month. It’s also heartbreaking. Its tens of thousands of users—some of them teenagers—talk about losing hope and wanting to end their lives. They debate different ways to die and share step-by-step instructions in threads with titles like “Where is the best place to hang yourself?” and “I need an immediate way out. Not worried about pain or mess.” Hundreds of the forum’s users have posted so-called goodbye threads, in which they live-blog their suicides. In every third or fourth post, someone asks where they can get sodium nitrite.
In the summer of 2020, Law saw a business opportunity. The powder was legal, unregulated and not particularly hard to find. It was available on Amazon, at Walmart, and through industrial food-prep shops and laboratory chemical suppliers for roughly $15 per kilogram. Law set up several online storefronts, including one called Imtime Cuisine, which sold 50-gram packets for $59 each. The site also offered bottles of hot sauce as cover, but it contained hints for suicidal customers: the initials of the substance, SN, were highlighted in the site’s logo. Some of Law’s other sites—they include EscMode, Icemac, AMBUCA and ACademic—sold gas masks, nitrogen regulators and other paraphernalia that can be used for suicide. One advertised $150 consultation calls with Law and included testimonials that referenced Nitschke, the euthanasia crusader, and applauded Law’s “mission.”
Law has claimed that he had altruistic intentions. He has said that, after his mother had a stroke, his father, a religious man, kept her on life support for several years. She was bedridden, unable to speak and fed through a tube in her stomach. In one media report, he explained that he started selling suicide kits because he wanted to help people avoid the kind of pain and suffering that his mother had endured. By the time he launched his business, however, medical assistance in dying, or MAID, was available to Canadians who qualify under a rigorous set of guidelines. Applicants have to be over 18, have a grievous and irremediable medical condition, undergo two independent evaluations, and be able to give informed consent. (MAID may soon be available to other Canadians too: the federal Liberals plan to expand eligibility to people with treatment-resistant mental illness in March of 2024, and a House of Commons committee is currently considering MAID for terminally ill teenagers.)
These rules are meant to ensure that applicants aren’t acting on impulse. Law wasn’t as discerning. He provided suicide-related products to anyone who was willing to pay. He presented himself as an enlightened humanist, offering the option of a dignified death to those who had no other recourse. But he had less high-minded motives too. In an interview with the Globe and Mail this past spring, he said, “I need a source of income. I hope you can understand that. I need to feed myself.” (Law declined interview requests for this story.)
In 2021, links to Law’s websites started appearing on the suicide forum. The forum prohibits posting sources of substances like the one Law was selling, so users adopted a code—KL for Kenneth Law, IC for Imtime Cuisine—and shared links in private messages. Before long, these initials were all over the site. “What’s IC? I keep seeing it everywhere,” one user wrote. “Does he deliver in India?” asked another. For nearly three years, Law sold multiple kits a day. He mailed them out in envelopes and boxes without any instructions on how to use them for suicide; his customers could find that information on the forum.
In early 2023, Law received an order from a young woman in Colorado. He drove to the Shoppers Drug Mart on Erin Mills Parkway, near the QEW, walked over to the Canada Post desk and shipped off a packet of salt. By then, he’d repeated the process perhaps hundreds of times. The package was destined for another town he’d never heard of, to another person he’d never met. A few days later, the package arrived at the Ramirez residence. Noelle grabbed it from the mailbox and told her parents it was a copy of her birth certificate. She said she needed it to travel. David and Sara were pleased to hear that she was planning for the future.
The evening of March 3 started like any other. Around 9 p.m., David sat down at his computer and began an overnight shift providing remote IT support. Sara put three-year-old Elijah to bed while 14-year-old Matthew got ready to turn in. Noelle said good night and closed her door, but instead of going to sleep, she logged on to the suicide forum and created a goodbye thread. In post after post, she detailed everything she was doing: opening the bag, preparing the substance, consuming it. A chorus of other forum users anonymously urged her onward, wishing her peace and relief from her pain. After Noelle posted her final message, she climbed through her bedroom window, walked a few blocks to a public park and called the police so they’d know where to find her body.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Noelle was unconscious. A team of paramedics brought her to the hospital while police drove to the Ramirez residence. The officers knocked on the door and informed Noelle’s parents that she was not, as they thought, soundly asleep in her bed, but unresponsive and en route to the ER. David stayed behind with the boys while Sara rushed to the hospital in tears, telling herself that Noelle always managed to pull through. When Sara arrived, a doctor approached her, looking solemn. They’d tried to help Noelle, but it was too late. Her miracle baby was gone.
Noelle was just one of hundreds of people who died by suicide using materials they purchased from Kenneth Law. More than two years before her death, a 21-year-old in Langley, BC, took his life. A few months later, a 41-year-old man in the UK did the same. Then came the deaths of people in Toronto, Ireland, New Zealand and Italy. In Detroit, a 17-year-old boy burst into his mother’s room screaming, “I want to live!” before collapsing.
Law’s customers were from all over the world, but many of them had things in common. Like Noelle, some had received diagnoses for autism spectrum disorder, OCD, depression and anxiety—conditions that put people at higher risk of dying by suicide. Some of them had tried to kill themselves before. Most of them alternated between the desire to die and the will to live, and often they were doing what they could to get better. They were going to therapy, taking medication, exercising, journalling and volunteering. And in their darkest moments, they found Law.
It didn’t take long for bereaved parents and siblings to find Law as well. There were plenty of clues: the Imtime Cuisine packaging at the bedsides of the departed, the forum posts they’d left behind. On some of Law’s websites, he published his full name, phone number and email address as well as the address of his PO box at the Shoppers on Erin Mills. Grief-stricken loved ones started reporting Law to police as early as February of 2021. The RCMP, OPP and municipal forces in several countries all received complaints. Some police services looked into Law themselves, but none pursued charges. It’s illegal in Canada to counsel or aid someone in suicide outside of the MAID process, but police apparently saw no evidence that Law was encouraging people to kill themselves. Instead, he was operating a registered business and selling a legal product.
In October of 2021, a 22-year-old named Tom Parfett died by suicide in a London hotel room using Law’s product. At that point, Surrey police didn’t link the death to Law. But, over the next year or so, Tom’s father, David, did his own digging and made the connection. He then followed up with his MP, former UK prime minister Theresa May—still, no movement. After another of Law’s UK customers, a 23-year-old student, died the following April, however, a coroner’s report urged the British government to take action.
Unwilling to wait, David Parfett tried another tack. He approached James Beal, an editor with the Times in London, who showed interest in pursuing the story. Beal then called Law, posing as a potential customer. Within minutes, Law detailed how to consume the poison and encouraged Beal to make a purchase. “Should the day come for whatever reason—that could be a war in Europe or whatever it might be—at least you would have something readily available,” he said. During their half-hour conversation, Law told Beal that “many, many, many people” in Canada, the US, the UK and beyond had died using his kits. Beal later pointed out that Surrey police had written to Law to ask that he shut down his shop. Law said he told them he would stop once his stock was depleted. “I haven’t run out of my batch,” he told Beal. “What’s the problem with that? I have inventory to sell.”
Beal’s reporting marked a breakthrough in the case. It provided evidence to suggest that Law wasn’t just selling a legal substance; he was also supplying instructions on how to use it for suicide. Before the Times published its investigation, Beal contacted Peel Regional Police, the department responsible for Mississauga, where Law lived. Around the same time, Peel police began investigating the circumstances of a sudden death and linked it—as well as one other suicide from January 2022—to Law. I asked Peel police when they became aware of Law’s activities and if they had been contacted by other police departments or grieving families before Beal’s report, but the force refused to provide details, citing its ongoing investigation. On the morning of May 2, about a week after the Times published its piece, a procession of cruisers pulled onto Law’s suburban street. Officers put him in cuffs, escorted him down the driveway and drove him to the station. Nearly three years after Law had started selling suicide kits, his deadly enterprise was over.
Every day, roughly 2,000 people around the world—12 of them in Canada—take their own lives. The factors that drive people to suicide are myriad: bankruptcies and breakups, sadness and shame, physical pain and mental illness. In his 2021 book, When It Is Darkest, renowned suicide-prevention expert Rory O’Connor writes, “Suicide is never caused by a single factor.”
The WHO estimates that 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia or a substance use disorder, so the most effective way to prevent suicide is to treat those conditions through therapy, medication and other mental health supports. It’s also helpful to address the factors that often underlie mental illnesses, such as poverty and homelessness. These sorts of systemic changes require time, money and sustained political will. In the interim, suicide-prevention experts have also advocated for targeting the specific moments and circumstances in which people end their lives. By and large, people kill themselves not because they want to die but because they’re trying to escape an unbearable hurt. They feel trapped in their gloom and unable to fight their way out. When people enter suicidal crises, tunnel vision sets in. Problems seem permanent and unsolvable. It’s in these moments of distress that people are most likely to attempt suicide. Decades of academic research show that an effective way to prevent suicide is to restrict access to the means by which people in crisis end their lives.
This line of thinking is what yielded the Luminous Veil, the protective barrier that envelops the Bloor Viaduct. Before it was installed, nine people jumped off the overpass every year, making it the bridge with the second-highest number of suicides in North America, after San Francisco’s Golden Gate. After the Veil went up, in 2003, the number of suicides in Toronto decreased slightly. This suggests that at least some would-be jumpers didn’t seek out other ways to die—they went on living.
Building a physical barrier is relatively simple. It’s exponentially more difficult to restrict access to a meat-curing salt that buyers can legally purchase in lethal doses for less than $100. Though Law’s sites have been shut down, there are plenty of other people selling poison online. In July of 2021, Dutch police arrested a man known as Alex S for peddling the same substance as Law. This past July, he received a two-year prison sentence for his role in 10 deaths. David Parfett, the father who spurred the Times investigation, told me that sellers in Poland, Ukraine and Malaysia still lurk the pages of the suicide forum where his son found Law.
During their conversation, Law told Beal that “many, many, many people in the US, the UK and beyond” had died using his kits
People have been abetting suicide online as long as there’s been an internet. In the 1990s, a group of early adopters started a thread on Usenet, a dial-up-era precursor to discussion boards like Reddit, to talk about the link between suicide and the holiday season. The forum was called alt.suicide.holiday, or Ash, and it quickly outgrew its original purpose to become a destination for people who wanted to discuss suicide free from stigma, shame and judgment. Throughout the decade, the group developed an increasingly libertarian ethos. “The value of individual freedom is superior to the value of life,” the site’s manifesto stated. “People have a right to commit suicide.” The site contained instructions on how to end one’s life via various methods and developed its own shorthand: to “catch the bus,” or to CTB, meant to end one’s life, and to have a “ticket” was to have all the necessary equipment to make an attempt. Ash also hosted chat rooms where suicidal people from all over the world remotely paired up and prepared to end their lives together.
In 2008, Nadia Kajouji, an 18-year-old student at Ottawa’s Carleton University, logged on to the site and posted about her recent breakup and miscarriage. Another user, who described themselves as a 31-year-old nurse in Minneapolis named Cami D, feigned empathy and invited Kajouji to enter a suicide pact. That April, Kajouji leaped into the Rideau River and died. Cami D, who was actually a married father of two named William Melchert-Dinkel, did not. Melchert-Dinkel was later convicted of attempting to assist suicide—the charge was downgraded because Kajouji had jumped and not hanged herself, as he had suggested. He was also convicted of assisting suicide in the death of a 32-year-old British citizen. He served just 178 days.
Ashers eventually migrated away from the antiquated Usenet platform and onto Reddit, where they started a new forum for unfiltered suicide discussion. Reddit banned that community in early 2018 for violating the site’s rules, but an alternative quickly popped up. That March, a Uruguayan named Diego Joaquin Galante and an American named Lamarcus Small, two 20-somethings who lived with their parents, allegedly built a series of websites to replace several banned Reddit forums. Most of these sites were misogynistic, hate-filled forums for incels and were men-only. Women were allowed to join just one of the websites: a forum where members discussed ways to kill themselves. (Despite an extensive New York Times investigation into Galante and Small’s involvement with these sites, the men deny founding or operating them.)
This website is where nearly every one of Law’s customers found him. It operates like a modern version of Ash, albeit with a handful of new restrictions. Users have to tick a box confirming that they are 18 or older, and they’re not allowed to share suicide-kit sources or encourage people to attempt suicide, but these rules are only loosely enforced. The website claims to be “pro-choice,” not pro-suicide, but there is no denying that it has led to hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths. A recent thread contains a list of people believed to have died using the type of poison that Law sold; it’s more than 100 usernames long.
Law has said that he is not responsible for what people do with his products and that he plans to fight the charges against him
It’s impossible to confirm whether those anonymous members actually died. But the figure is consistent with findings from more reputable sources. In early 2019, shortly after the forum was founded, Tyler Hickey, a forensic pathologist who conducts autopsies for the province of Ontario, saw a young man who had intentionally overdosed on sodium nitrite. “I had never heard of it within my field,” he says. “But it’s not uncommon to see unusual circumstances as to how someone has died.” So, at first, he wasn’t overly concerned. Then the substance showed up in another autopsy report. And another. In 2019 and 2020, the chemical compound killed about two dozen people in Ontario alone, an unprecedented spike. Researchers in the US and the UK have reported similar increases, predominantly among people in their teens, 20s and 30s.
Over the past five years, the bereaved have been begging for regulations, with mixed results. Germany, Italy and at least one internet service provider in the UK have blocked access to the suicide forum. Japan now strictly controls the sale of sodium nitrite, which is used in fish roe production, and California recently banned selling it to minors. This past June, Lori Trahan, a US member of congress from Massachusetts, introduced a bill that would limit the purity of sodium nitrite to 10 per cent as opposed to the 99.9 per cent pure product that Law offered, so that it can be used in kitchens but not as a means of suicide. Some grieving parents have opted for litigation instead of lobbying, suing Amazon for not only selling the substance to their kids but also recommending other potentially life-ending products in the “people also bought” section. (A judge dismissed the first of those cases in June, reasoning that Amazon, which has since stopped selling the product, hadn’t violated liability laws.) David Parfett admits that these are imperfect solutions. “I appreciate that we’re not going to stop everybody dying by suicide,” he says. “But there’s a significant cohort we will stop by removing these easy, quick, cheap ways of dying.”
Canada has yet to take any significant steps to limit access to either the suicide forum or the lethal products that it promotes, despite the fact that Hickey has been advocating for a governmental review of sodium nitrite since 2021. “My hope is that some reasonable balance could be struck between people accessing the compounds for legitimate purposes in the food industry and not having them accessible at the click of a button for others sitting at home with other plans,” he says. He asked Health Canada to consider restricting access to the salt. The agency has instead opted to educate physicians and pediatricians about its misuse and urge hospitals to stock up on methylene blue, a salt that can act as an antidote. A Health Canada spokesperson told me that sodium nitrite is still permitted as a food additive and subject to some regulations, namely that it must be packaged separately from other spices and seasonings and that food manufacturers are required to disclose the amount used in a given item. The rules may guard against accidental overdoses, but they evidently have not prevented deliberate ones.
The federal government is focusing on other areas of suicide prevention. On November 30, it will launch 988, an easy-to-remember emergency hotline for people in suicidal crises. It plans to spend $158 million on the project over the next three years. Suicide-prevention expert Mark Sinyor, an associate professor at U of T and a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says that, although Canada already has suicide hotlines, the dedicated three-number line is a meaningful step. “Adding the numbers sends a message to the population about the importance and reality of suicide prevention,” he says. “It signals that suicide can be prevented and that we as a country are taking it seriously.”
Law operated his online stores using the services of Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify. After the company was contacted by the Times, it took down Law’s websites. Using Law’s Shopify purchase logs, Peel police were able to discover the scope of his operation: he had sent 1,200 packages to more than 40 different countries.
Since the spring, Peel police have reached out to law enforcement agencies around the world, including the FBI, the UK’s National Crime Agency and forces in other Canadian cities, asking them to check on Law’s customers. When officers started tracking people down, it was unclear whether they would be alive.
In a quiet town just east of Toronto, a cop ended up on the doorstep of a 50-something man I’ll call Daniel (he agreed to speak with me on the condition that I not use his real name). Daniel ordered a package from Law in December of 2022, though that wasn’t his first brush with suicide—he started experiencing suicidal ideation in his teens. In 2017, after a car accident left him concussed and unable to work, he tried to take his own life. He survived but was so wracked with shame that he stopped talking to his family. “I didn’t want them to feel bad for me,” he says. “And I certainly didn’t want them to point the finger at themselves.”
In 2022, Daniel’s mom got Covid and died. He didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. Disgusted with himself, he stopped eating and sleeping and started thinking about suicide again. He didn’t want to be a burden to his grieving father or his then-girlfriend, so he sought solace online and ended up on the suicide forum. “I know people have gone after these forums, thinking that’s what drove their loved ones to suicide,” he says. “But I received more support from that forum than from anywhere else.”
He also received a DM that led him to one of Law’s websites. He placed an order, telling Law over email that he wanted to make turkey jerky; they never talked about suicide. Though Law’s sites said he’d sell only to people over 25, he didn’t ask Daniel for ID. The salt arrived a few days later, but Daniel still wasn’t fully committed to dying. He thought of Law’s substance as an insurance policy, a nuclear option in case things became dire. “I was still wavering,” he says. Besides, it was a few days before Christmas, and he had plans to spend the holidays with loved ones, so he hid the package in the woods behind his house and told himself he’d come back to it later. He still hasn’t, and he hopes he never will, but he hasn’t been able to scrub the idea from his mind. “I’ve embraced suicide as a fact of life,” he says. “I don’t like it, but I’m comfortable talking about it.”
Most people aren’t. That, he says, is one reason people with suicidal thoughts don’t ask for help: they’re scared to even mention the subject. Some worry that they’ll become too much of a burden by sharing their sadness; others are afraid they’ll be committed to an institution. They want the support of their family and friends, but they’re scared of what those people will think. Suicidal people flock to online forums because the offline world is often ill-equipped to support them. When people are in crisis, they need compassion, not condemnation. “That person probably fought for a hell of a lot longer than you think,” Daniel says. “I fight every day.”
According to StatCan, 12 per cent of Canadians will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. That’s not a tragic statistic; it’s a hopeful one, because it proves that the most common outcome of suicidal ideation isn’t suicide—it’s recovery. Only a small fraction of those people will try to end their lives.
When police knocked on Daniel’s door in May, he was alive. But at least a dozen other Ontarians were not. At the end of August, Peel police charged Law with aiding and abetting the suicides of 12 more people in Toronto, Mississauga, Markham, Pickering, London, Brampton, Aurora and Thunder Bay.
One of them was Ashtyn Prosser. The younger of two brothers, Ashtyn grew up in Windsor. He was a straight-A student, a talented artist and an avid gamer. Like Noelle, he built his own computer. When he graduated from Grade 8, he was named valedictorian, but he dreaded making a speech; he hated being the centre of attention. Despite his shyness, he spoke up the following year when he witnessed a schoolmate assault a woman on a public bus. His report led to criminal charges—and bullying from the offender’s friends. “He got jumped by some kids,” his mother, Kim, told me. “After that, he didn’t want to be seen anymore.”
Ashtyn was in Grade 11 when Covid hit. At first, he and Kim joked that all those hours gaming on his PC had prepared him for lockdown. But the isolation was taxing. Before long, he was struggling to get out of bed, brush his teeth and shower. “All the things that he would normally do in a day without even thinking weren’t so easy anymore,” says Kim. He had trouble adjusting to online learning, and his marks nosedived. He managed to graduate and enrolled in a computer program at Toronto’s York College of Applied Studies, but another lockdown forced classes back online, so he dropped out after five weeks.
When Ashtyn first told Kim that he was experiencing suicidal thoughts, she took him to an emergency department in Windsor, where a doctor from the mental health unit recommended that they follow up with their family doctor. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a suicidal son—and underwhelmed by the supports available to her—Kim did just that. Their GP prescribed Ashtyn anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. “It was just like, ‘Here you go. This is it,’ ” says Kim. “Now what do we do?”
Eager for a change of scenery, Ashtyn moved in with relatives in Thunder Bay and continued looking for professional help. One mental health support group told him they’d shut down the program he wanted to enroll in; others put him on wait lists. In the summer of 2022, he attempted suicide twice in 10 days. After that, he changed medications and seemed to be improving. But, last March, one month before his 20th birthday, he died.
Kim heard the name Kenneth Law for the first time two months later, when police in Thunder Bay launched an investigation and took Ashtyn’s computer as evidence. Kim has tried to avoid fixating on Law as a villain. “Everyone wants somebody to blame,” she says. “And it’s easy to blame him.” But pretending that Law is the only problem, she says, ignores other issues. Even when Ashtyn went looking for help, he couldn’t find any. “There are so many things that are broken about our system,” says Kim. “The blame, the shame, the lack of mental health supports.” She is in the process of launching a non-profit in her son’s memory that will provide free and subsidized access to meditation, yoga, art therapy and other healing activities. “I want to make something positive of this,” she says.
Law is currently in jail awaiting trial. He has so far declined a bail hearing. He has said that he is not responsible for what people do with his products and that he plans to fight the 14 charges against him. If he’s found guilty, Law faces up to 14 years in prison for each charge—and more charges may be forthcoming. He may be extradited to other jurisdictions; the UK’s National Crime Agency has connected 88 suicides to Law’s products. As of this writing, Law is linked to at least 120 deaths worldwide.
Four months after Noelle Ramirez’s death, I had a video call with her father, David. He was sitting in his family’s home in Colorado, and it was clear that he was still reeling. “It’s a hell of a thing when you go through every minute of the last 20 years looking for every mistake and every failure, asking yourself, ‘How did I fail so bad that it cost my baby her life?’ ” He detailed all the things he and Sara had done to try to help Noelle: the family trips, the therapy sessions, all the times he promised her that things would get better. “I would die for my children,” he said. “And there are predators out there who would take them for $100.” He shook his head and fought back tears. “He’s hurt so many people. Why? Because he was broke? Get a fucking job. I have two of them. I’m 56 years old, and I work 80 hours a week.”
David went quiet for a moment as he tried to regain his composure. “So here we are,” he said softly. He pointed to the corner of the room. “My daughter is about 15 feet from me right now, in a jar.” He explained that he and Sara had attempted to recreate some sense of normalcy, but it was impossible. Even after they stored Noelle’s belongings in the garage, the void was inescapable. “My 14-year-old son lost his best friend in the world,” says David. “My three-year-old constantly asks for ‘Sissy,’ and we have to explain that she’s in heaven.”
Police visited the Ramirez home a couple of times after Noelle’s death, trying to gather evidence about Law. There were other visitors too. Every so often, strangers wrote and called and showed up at their door to express admiration for Noelle, a trans woman who had lived out and proud despite the risks. “People have told us that she gave them the strength to be themselves,” says David. When the world ridiculed and derided Noelle, she responded with love and kindness. She may have lost hope in the end, but that didn’t erase the fact that she was one of the bravest people they’d ever met. Even after her death, she was still teaching them how to live.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, support is available through Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566.