A Virginia father's fight against Facebook after his son's suicide may pave the way for other parents seeking answers after tragedies.
Eric Rash was a victim of bullying in 2011. The high school student took his own life and his family was unable to access the 15-year-old's Facebook account to look for answers. Now, a bill approved by the General Assembly Monday aims to change that.
Eric loved to read, and loved to learn, but hidden was the torment he endured day after day at school. It ended when Eric took out a gun and pulled the trigger.
"We had absolutely no warning," said Rash's father Ricky in a phone interview Tuesday. "Eric was a straight A student, he was well-liked, the teachers liked him."
Ricky and his wife, Diane, live in Nottoway County, 60 miles south of Richmond. The relief was palpable when lawmakers in both the House and Senate passed what the Rash Family has sought for two years, a bill giving parents access to their children's Facebook accounts if the child has died.
Ricky and Diane thought something on Eric's Facebook could answer why their son could not escape his grief.
"The officer that morning, he told us we need to really check [Facebook]. Because so many of the teens nowadays put everything online, and that's where the clue might be," explained Ricky.
However, Facebook said it could not grant the Rash family access because of user terms and policies protecting privacy. But Ricky and Diane said Facebook's principle didn't match with common sense.
"Death is complicated enough, especially when it's a child," Ricky said. "When you're searching for answers and you're hurting and you're grieving, you need access. You need some level of comfort that you've done everything you can to honor your loved one's life."
A Facebook spokesperson said Tuesday, "These are tragic situations and Facebook always tries to be as helpful to families as possible while still complying with federal and state law."
An independent commission is currently helping states to take on similar issues with Facebook after death, but Virginia is leading the way. The bill now goes to Governor McDonnell for his signature.
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