By inhaling hydrogen sulfide gas, a student in his 20s committed suicide on Wednesday afternoon. Emergency responders found the unresponsive young man on a closet floor of his Austin, Texas, apartment, near the University of Texas campus.
According to the Austin Fire Department, a warning sign was posted on the closet door reading, “Danger: Watch out, hydrogen sulfide.” The unnamed student suffered from a heart attack and was declared dead at the scene.
“This is not an uncommon method of chemical suicide,” AFD Division Chief Palmer Buck said at a news conference. “You can search on the Internet to see some of the different ways this is done.”
As reported by Fox News, emergency crews wearing hazmat gear evacuated the entire 136-unit building. One building employee and 10 others received non-life threatening injuries from the hydrogen sulfide gas. Six of those injured were taken to the hospital, while five were treated at the scene.
“The concern with hydrogen sulfide is that it can be, at high enough levels, a lethal gas,” Buck said. “We do feel pretty comfortable that is what this is. We have some final chemical analysis being done to verify that’s what this is.”
They believe the student inhaled the industrial gas on purpose in an effort to end his life, but a pending autopsy will determine the exact cause and manner of death. No information related to the man’s identity has been released.
Crews on the scene were given strict instructions not to use mouth-to-mouth to resuscitate the man since they believed he was a victim of gas poisoning. Emergency personnel are trained to decontaminate patients and securely wrap any exposed clothing. They did, however, try other efforts to revive the student for about an hour.
Francoise Luca, a representative of the building’s management, said the man was a student, but could not verify if he attended UT. According to the AFD, about 400 people live in the building and many of them are enrolled at the university.
Around 2 p.m., several residents of the building on Pearl St. called management to complain of a foul odor. Maintenance workers determined the smell was emanating from the man’s apartment and decided to enter. Once inside, they discovered the student unconscious and quickly called police and fire departments.
Hydrogen sulfide gas, or “sewer gas,” is colorless, extremely poisonous, and highly flammable. It is often recognized by a rotten-egg or sulfur odor and is easily absorbed by the lungs. Even short-term exposure can cause immediate collapse and a significant probability of death.
In August 2009, a California man killed himself in a very similar manner behind a Pasadena shopping center. He released the hydrogen sulfide while sitting inside a locked car and also hung a sign on the window warning others of the gas.
During a suicide spree 8 years ago in Japan, 208 people died from inhaling hydrogen sulfide. The suicidal individuals created the sewer gas by combining very common household chemicals. Unfortunately, many of their family members died as well.
In addition to this tragedy, the students at the University of Texas are still in shock over the death of 18-year-old student Haruka Weiser, who was sexually assaulted and strangled. On Tuesday, authorities arrested Meechaeiel Khalil Criner for the brutal murder of the student just two days before campus police discovered her lifeless body in a local creek on April 5.
While the hydrogen sulfide slowly escaped throughout the day, authorities finally cleared the West Campus apartment building for residents to re-enter around 7:30 p.m.
Investigators are still trying to determine how the Texas student managed to get hydrogen sulfide into his apartment, or if he made it himself. It is believed the young man was alone when he released the gas.
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