Christopher James Dawley, known as CJ to his friends and family, was 14 years old when he signed up for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Like many teenagers, he documented his life on those platforms.
CJ worked as a busboy at Texas Roadhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He loved playing golf, watching “Doctor Who” and was highly sought after by top-tier colleges. “His counselor said he could get a free ride anywhere he wanted to go,” his mother Donna Dawley told CNN Business during a recent interview at the family’s home.
But throughout high school, he developed what his parents felt was an addiction to social media. By his senior year, “he couldn’t stop looking at his phone,” she said. He often stayed up until 3 a.m. on Instagram messaging with others, sometimes swapping nude photos, his mother said. He became sleep deprived and obsessed with his body image.
On January 4, 2015, while his family was taking down their Christmas tree and decorations, CJ retreated into his room. He sent a text message to his best friend – “God’s speed” – and posted an update on his Facebook page: “Who turned out the light?” CJ held a 22-caliber rifle in one hand, his smartphone in the other and fatally shot himself. He was 17. Police found a suicide note written on the envelope of a college acceptance letter. His parents said he never showed outward signs of depression or suicidal ideation.
“When we found him, his phone was still on, still in his hand, with blood on it,” Donna Dawley said. “He was so addicted to it that even his last moments of his life were about posting on social media.”