Before the abuse from the strangers began, Amanda Waite made arrangements at her son’s school for counselors to be around when she broke the news.
“This time she hurt herself too much and she died,” Amanda told her and her partner’s 5-year-old son, John, on Wednesday afternoon.
Amanda’s partner of nine years, Lizzy Waite, had committed suicide hours before in a Pierre, South Dakota home. Amanda found out when she saw Lizzy’s Facebook note, scheduled to post hours after anyone could help.
“I called police to do a safety check,” said Amanda. (Due to South Dakota’s Marsy’s Law, the Pierre Police Department declined to comment.)
“When they opened the door, she was already gone. She knew exactly what she was doing when she set it for the time she did, so someone could save her cat.”
Amanda called her own mom, then Lizzy’s mom. She went to the funeral home. The police gave her Lizzy’s cat.
Then she went home to take a screenshot of Lizzy’s suicide note, so she could keep her words.
“I’m so sorry to all the people I hurt by killing myself. I truly am. I’ve been hurting so bad and I can’t form words to communicate it to you,” Lizzy starts. “I’m so lonely.”
Amanda started writing a Facebook comment back to her. She called it a “last letter.”
“I was writing my last letter to her because I felt like I needed to talk to her again,” she said. “Then I noticed comments rolling in.”
“Lol good riddance,” wrote a user with the fake name “Oi McVeigh.” The user’s profile picture was a shot of Donald Trump pointing and laughing.
“At first I thought maybe it was just a friend of a friend,” said Amanda. “I replied back telling them they’re assholes, because they’re assholes.”
But the abuse didn’t stop.
“I am glad he is gone,” wrote a user named Jaroslav Tipek, who had already changed his profile picture to a Photoshop of Lizzy’s face.
Amanda didn’t have direct access to Lizzy’s computer or passwords—she said she and Lizzy “still loved each other, but we had been living separately”—and so the comments kept rolling in.
A Photoshop of the MGM logo popped up, with Donald Trump’s face replacing the lion. All of the words were replaced with the word “Haha” over and over again. Twenty-nine likes.
Then this, from the user Donny J Trump: “#TRANSLIVESDONTMATTER.”
“It was spiraling out of control really fast,” Amanda said. “We had to do something.”
“It’s the day before Thanksgiving. It’s evening. I understand,” she said. “They need proof she was dead, but all I had was a picture I had taken of her at the funeral home.”
So Amanda started trying to guess Lizzy’s passwords, which she’d changed since they lived in different houses. None of them were working.
By now, people were mocking Amanda and Lizzy’s son.
“We called our son Tatoe because, in the ultrasound, he looked like a little roasted potato,” she said. “They were making fun our child’s nickname. It’s absolutely horrible.”
That was one of the tip-offs that this attack was seemingly being coordinated from a specific anti-transgender hate site that had been taunting Lizzy over the past several years. The message board had a thread mocking, incorrectly, that Lizzy had a son named “Potato.”
“When Liz first transitioned, she got her name posted to [the site]. It’s this big collection of horrible, awful troll people,” said Amanda. “They like to pick on people for fun.”
(The Daily Beast can confirm the existence of the threads about Lizzy on the site’s message board, but has chosen to not give publicity to the website by naming it.)
By now, Amanda was calling Lizzy’s landlord to see if she could get into her partner’s apartment, but he wasn’t picking up.
Meanwhile, the trolls were seizing on the last few paragraphs of Lizzy’s note. A half-dozen paragraphs after Lizzy wrote, “The pills are taking effect and I can’t think straight. I love you all,” Lizzy wrote this about Donald Trump:
“Dump Trump. Kill him. Mike Pence too. Goodnight white pride. Steal the hats and destroy them. Best (sic) fascists with a baseball bat.”
Of these lines, Amanda said, “I know people thought there was a lot of hate and awful things spewed at the end of her note. I don’t think people understand that she was worried about her basic civil liberties. She had been harassed by a boss for using what some people believe to be the wrong bathroom.
“She was hurting badly enough to kill herself. She said that the pills were kicking in.”
Amanda remembers thinking of the trolls: “Why are you spewing hate at someone for how they phrased their suicide note?”
By now, Amanda was desperate.
“I’m freaking out. Her family is freaking out. Her friends are freaking out,” she said. “The one group of people that Liz would’ve been least comfortable with has absolutely taken over and is terrorizing everyone who loves her.”
It was around this point that Lizzie’s brother, David McClure, heard the news. He got a call from his mom at his work in Arizona, then left to call another of his sisters for confirmation. That’s where he heard about the suicide note on Facebook.
“I pulled over and read it and cried by the side of the road,” he said. “That day was horrible and those fucking Nazis made it worse.”
McClure said he used to teach Lizzy about good music when they were kids. “No hair bands,” he said. “She was a cool kid.”
On Wednesday, as he coped with his sister’s loss in his parked car, strangers were disgracing her name and he was powerless to stop them.
“She was a loving person that people cared about,” said McClure. “What you [the trolls] did to me and my family was one of the worst things I have ever seen. I hate the world a little more now.”
Hours later, Amanda had a breakthrough. She and Lizzy shared an old laptop where Lizzy was still logged into an email address on a backup web browser. From there, Amanda sent a request for a new password from her Facebook account. It worked.
She shared the password with Lizzy’s sister who helped “take care of all of those nasty comments.”
“You do not want that to be her last memory,” said Amanda.
Instead, Amanda says, she wants people to remember Lizzy as a “Renaissance woman.”
“She was good at everything she picked up. If she decided she wanted to learn Japanese, she’d learn Japanese. If she wanted to be a calligrapher, even though she had the world’s crappiest handwriting, give her a month. She was a calligrapher,” Amanda said. “She had such a big heart. She wanted to take care of everyone and I feel like she knew too much, if that makes sense.”
Amanda said Lizzy’s mental health had been in a “steady decline” for years, but had been better over the last few months. She said the outcome of the election had a noticeable negative impact.
“She was so worried about if she was going to have basic civil rights. She was working so hard. She had her medications stable. She had a great therapeutic team,” said Amanda. “The election felt like a turning point. She got really hopeless after that. It’s really, really conservative here. She was afraid that unless national politics got better, local politics were going to get worse.”
The day before her death, Lizzy and Amanda jointly declared bankruptcy. After they finished the paperwork with their lawyer, Amanda said she and Lizzy “talked forever” about “good times, bad times, all of it.”
“I’ll replay that day over and over,” she said. “What’d I miss?”
Now, Amanda said she wants John to know the Lizzy she knew. She said her partner never liked pictures of themselves prior to transition. Afterward, Lizzy became “really into selfies.” Amanda calls that the “good stuff.”
“I don’t want him seeing this awful, last-day-of-her-life bit,” she said. “If our son googles her name in 15 years, I want people to see the good stuff.”
In the meantime, David has words of advice for those in the LGBT community who might face similar hate speech on the web. Reach out for help, he said. Even reach out to him.
“Don’t let the assholes win,” he said.