COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (KDVR) — You’re supposed to be 18 to be buy anything on Amazon but that didn’t stop a 16-year-old boy from Commerce City, who was able to buy his method of suicide from the online retail giant.
Ayden Wallin moved from Commerce City to California to live with his dad last August. Ten days later, he took his own life.
“I don’t think life will ever by the same. We’re trying, we’re trying really hard to get it back together but it’s difficult,” said Ayden’s mom Meredith Mitchel.
His mom believes remote learning due to the pandemic was a factor in his depression.
“He was not a super social kid, so being forced to be in a social situation at school was good for him,” she said.
But Mitchel told the Problem Solvers there’s another factor that haunts her and it was how easy her son was able to buy a product from Amazon that he used to poison himself.
“If they’re going to sell it, then they’re going to have to find a need to verify because I feel that they are directly responsible for killing my son,” she said.
FOX31 is not identifying the product other than to say it is a powder that has legitimate purposes as a preservative but can also be misused by those who might want to harm themselves.
Websites like DRIZLY sell alcohol online but they require proof of age at delivery. What Ayden bought wasn’t alcohol or illegal and it only cost $21.
Mitchel said her son was able to buy the product online by creating his own Amazon account and lying about his age.
“It’s really devastating,” said Annabella Cordova-Barnes, the program director at Sandstone Care and Addiction Treatment Center, which has facilities in Denver, Broomfield and Colorado Springs.
Sandstone offers residential treatment for teens struggling with mental health issues.
Cordova-Barnes said Ayden might not have followed through with his plan had Amazon provided even minor resistance to his efforts.
“Obstacle or some sort of barriers or hurdles, the chances are there’s less likelihood they’ll continue to pursue that item because they have hit that roadblock,” she told the Problem Solvers.
Putting up an online roadblock is not as difficult as you might think, according to Blake Hall, the CEO and co-founder of ID.ME.
“What motivates me is that if you add more trust to transactions you can prevent bad outcomes,” he said.
ID.ME uses facial recognition technology to confirm people online are really who they claim to be. The service is used by a growing number of government agencies, including the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, to prevent unemployment fraud.
Blake told the Problem Solvers his company’s technology could be used to ensure minors don’t buy harmful products online.
“Being able to let Amazon or any other site know this is the actual identity of the individual you are dealing with and if they’re a minor, go ahead and send a permission request to the parent or the guardian. Those are the types of things that can add more trust to our society and prevent negative outcomes, whether it’s a minor getting a substance they shouldn’t be getting access to because it could threaten them,” he said.
For Ayden’s mother, that extra step could have changed everything.
“I never got to see my little boy again, I have a hole in my life,” she said.
Mitchel reached out to Amazon repeatedly over the past few months. The last email she received said, “I understand your concerns and again offer my condolences to you and your loved ones. We’re not able to share the details of our investigation or what action(s) have been taken.”
“I feel that they just want me to go away, that they really don’t care, they got their money. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry it sucks for you, this is all we can do,’ is how I feel,” said Mitchel.
Amazon declined an interview request from the Problem Solvers but confirmed users are supposed to be at least 18 years old.
A spokeswoman for the online company offered her condolence but added the product Ayden Wallin bought does have legitimate uses.
She did not respond to any questions about the possibility of using ID.ME to verify the identity of Amazon customers.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or depression, the following resources are available:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): Speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.
Colorado Crisis Services Hotline (1-844-493-8255): If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. When calling Colorado Crisis Services, you will be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master’s or doctoral degree.
The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386): A 24/7 resource for LGBT youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained counselors.