An Ashley Madison suicide: It shouldn't take a tragedy to end the gleeful "cheating dirtbags" schadenfreude

A pastor was exposed by Ashley Madison and killed himself — and other suicides are being investigated now

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 9, 2015 3:31PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Chris Wattie)
(Reuters/Chris Wattie)

When a group identifying itself as The Impact Team warned in July that it had hacked Ashley Madison — the dating site for people looking for affairs — the news was greeted with gleeful anticipation from Internet rubberneckers and a palpable sense of quiet dread for the site's reported 37 million subscribers. But as the hacker group said at the time, "Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion." And now that Ashley Madison's user list has been made public, some of them are starting to kill themselves.

John Gibson was pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi, and a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College. He was a married father of two. He was 56. And his name was on the Ashley Madison list. On August 24, six days after the hacked information went public, he committed suicide. His wife Christi, who found his body, recalled the moment to CNN Money on Tuesday, saying, "I had to call my kids. How do you tell your kids that their dad is gone and that he took his own life?" And she revealed that in his note, he spoke of the hack. "He talked about depression. He talked about having his name on there, and he said he was just very, very sorry. What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn't extend that to himself."

In an announcement during a chapel service Tuesday, Gibson's son Trey shared the story of his father's death as well, saying, "My dad was a great man. He was a great man with struggles. My dad reached a point of such hopelessness and despair that he took his own life."

Since the August release of the Ashley Madison information, other reports of suicides related to the hack have been reported as well. Toronto police said at a recent news conference that they're looking into two possible suicides related to the hack. And though the validity of the address can't be confirmed and the man's exact motivations haven't been told, it's also suspicious timing that a 25-year veteran of the San Antonio police force killed himself just days after his email was revealed in the hack. And it's not just about possible suicides.

Even before the hack went live, Krebs on Security was reporting that the event was becoming a golden opportunity for blackmailers, noting that "extortionists already see easy pickings in the leaked AshleyMadison user database."

Gosh, doesn't it feel great to see those cheating dirtbags put in their place?

The reasons that any person would choose to end his life are deeply personal and complex. To suggest that there's a single cause and effect between being outed in the hack and committing suicide is simplistic and unrealistic. But you can't watch potentially millions of people's most intimate secrets being cavalierly messed around with and not recognize the devastating fallout. And anyone who thinks the clients of Ashley Madison got what was coming to them is ignoring their spouses and children, and the effect of public shaming on them. They're ignoring the inevitability that when you expose that many people, some of them are already going to be not in great shape emotionally. They're forgetting that no deserves to have his or her private information targeted and tampered with. Even people who are pretty reprehensible don't deserve it.

Behind the names on that list are vulnerable human beings. As Gibson's widow says, "There's brokenness in every single one of us... These were real people with real families, real pain and real loss. It's not funny. It's not a source for salacious gossip."

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Aol_on Ashley Madison Ashley Madison Hack John Gibson Suicide The Impact Team