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I-TEAM | Social media and suicide: TikTok’s delayed response

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 8:48 PM EST
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We want to warn you this story discusses suicide and rape and could be triggering.

GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Emily Zavala would’ve turned 15 this month, but last week, the Grovetown Middle School student took her own life.

She was posting videos on TikTok shortly before her death. TikTok refused to take them down until our I-Team started asking questions.

When we watched the videos, they had been up for four days. That includes one where Emily shows a belt in her closet. It was in the shape of a noose. Not long after, she used it to take her own life.

Grovetown Police contacted TikTok twice about taking the videos down. Officers say TikTok told them to get a cease and desist order from a judge.

The reason? Officers say a TikTok representative told them they were not explicit enough.

Janet Majewski: “She lived big.”

The hole Emily left in Majewski’s heart is even bigger.

The memorial in Emily Zavala’s bedroom bedroom is also getting bigger. Friends hung photos to the wall. Some of the messages are written to Emily. Some are written to Elijah. They are both the same person, and they loved to be different.

Janet Majewski: “She would put on crazy makeup.”

Emily/Elijah’s face became the canvas where paint could cover pain.

Janet Majewski: “She had a lot of faces, but she didn’t show me that sad, sad face that needed me. I would have done anything. Anything.”

Emily went by Elijah on Facebook. They shared photos on Instagram, but the night she took her life, she was posting on TikTok.

Janet Majewski: “When I found her, her phone was at her feet.”

Her family was devastated to find those videos.

Janet Majewski: “My daughter’s seen them. I believe you’ve seen them. I will NOT watch them.”

As if that wasn’t painful enough, Emily/Elijah’s family discovered a TikTok account with the name “Urapsychopathemily.”

The person behind it posted no videos but commented on Emily’s videos with “#freekain.” That’s a reference to her ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Kain Lord.

He’s currently in jail, charged with rape and aggravated battery.

According to TikTok’s community standards, ”We remove all expressions of abuse, including threats or degrading statements intended to mock, humiliate, embarrass, intimidate, or hurt an individual.”

When the I-Team contacted TikTok about this account, it was taken down immediately. TikTok confirms it was deemed “Harassment and bullying.”

TikTok’s website also says it removes videos related to suicide. As soon as our I-Team started asking questions about Emily’s videos the night she died, TikTok disabled her account. A rep says the company is working to figure out what went wrong both times a Grovetown police officer called.

Whatever happened, it’s a lesson for the social media company when it comes to law enforcement.

Janet also hopes Emily/Elijah’s story is a lesson to other young people who are struggling.

Janet Majewski: “If any child is feeling suicidal, please look at me. THIS is what your parents look like. I am heartbroken. Everybody tells me it’s gonna be okay, and it’s never gonna be okay.”

Emily’s memorial service is tFriday morning at 11 a.m. at Kings Funeral Home in Martinez.

There’s also a “Celebrating Emily” account at Queensboro Bank. You can donate at any branch.

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