This Dateline NBC report aired Friday, August 20, 9 p.m./8 C.
Freshman week at colleges everywhere: A rite of passage for students and parents alike. Here at Carleton University in Canada's capital city, Ottawa, the school year and adventure were just beginning... Young people on their own for the first time, moms and dads not so sure about it...
As for 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, she was all self-confident with ambitions for a career in law and politics. And her parents had no doubt she would do just fine.
Her father Mohamed...
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: And also I think, in my opinion, she went to Carleton because it's a little bit farther from us too, so we wouldn't be checking on her, you know. And she knows I was very protective and so is her mother.
It was the first week of September 2007, and as Nadia moved into Carleton's Prescott Hall residence, her mother Deborah says they felt assured she'd be well cared for.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: Oh, they tell you about all the wonderful medical care,how all the students are completely covered. They go into the doctors, the counselors..They never have to leave the campus.
For Nadia Kajouji, freshman year started as it often does – with new friends, social life, a first taste of independence.
Krystal Leonov lived next door.
KRYSTAL LEONOV: Nadia, to me, was a very happy person. Like, she was very gung-ho. She was always the one to say, ‘Let's do this. Like, who cares what anyone thinks about it?’ She's a very strong person. She was very in depth. Very smart. I always knew that she would do something great in her life.
Nadia's brother Marc...
MARC KAJOUJI: ... She might have wanted to be a lawyer, but then maybe she wanted to be a judge. You know, she was always striving to be better, and I think it, it was, you know, her academics — if it slipped to like, you know, what someone else would be happy with, it wasn't good enough for her.
The video diary she kept showed a bright young woman.
But, as bubbly as she seemed then, her bright light would soon begin to fade. She'd broken up with her long time boyfriend – and fallen in love with somebody else. That romance soon soured.
Mom knew about pregnancy and miscarriage... Dad did not. But the heartbreak of lost love would turn out to be the least of it. Nadia's mother was concerned.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: She had gotten pregnant and she had a miscarriage. I shouldn't say it was an inkling that something was changing, I just knew she was – it was a hard time for her, it was a very difficult time. And, unfortunately, she was head over heels in love with this guy.
In her video diary, unrequited love was a recurring theme.
And, after Christmas, things went from bad to worse. Nadia began to withdraw. On camera, wearing an eyeshade, she bared her feelings about what was going wrong.
NADIA KAJOUJI: I didn't want to get pregnant, I didn't choose to get pregnant. The condom broke. I took the morning-after pill and it failed. So I was pregnant and had no choice in the matter. And then I miscarried, so I couldn't choose whether to keep the child, or not keep the child, go through with the pregnancy, not go through with it.
About two months after she made that entry to her video diary, Ottawa found itself digging out from under 20 fresh inches of snow.
That morning, at Carleton University, Nadia Kajouji missed an appointment with the mental health counselor she'd been seeing. Music had been blaring from her dorm room all night.
When security came to open the door, Nadia's wallet, credit cards and money were still there; her iPod, too, paused mid-song. There was her prom dress, but no winter coat and no Nadia.
300 miles away, outside Toronto, her parents had been trying to reach her for days. It would be another 48 hours before Deborah Chevalier got that phone call.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: The message was from security at Carleton, wanting to know if Nadia was home with us because she hadn't been seen at school.
Where was Nadia? What happened to her?
Finding answers to those anguished questions would trigger a search that would lead around the world and would uncover something almost unimaginable.
The search was on for Nadia Kajouji. What could have happened to this bright, beautiful college freshman? She had missed an appointment with her mental health counselor. She'd been gone two days before anyone at the university notified her parents.
A Carleton University spokesman declined Dateline's request for an interview. To view the university's response,
As soon as he heard about his daughter's disappearance, Nadia's father Muhamed went to Ottawa and desperately scoured the city.
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: I just wish I could find my daughter. And every day, every hour goes by—my hopes go lower and lower and lower.
Nadia's brother, Marc, was there too.
MARC KAJOUJI: Was I foolish for searching here, and trying to search there, and going to parks knee-high in snow? It kept hope, it kept a bit of hope, you know, a bit of sanity, I guess, in the situation.
It was only after Nadia disappeared that her parents began to piece together what their daughter had been going through at school. They noticed changes on her last visit home.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: She was depressed when she came home in February. She was not at all herself.
BOB MCKEOWN: And did you ask her about that?
DEBORAH CHEVALIER:I just asked her, ‘Is something wrong?’ She just said, ‘No, I'm just tired. I'm not feeling well.’
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: I said to her mother, ‘Doesn't—there's something bothering Nadia.’ She said, ‘I know, I spoke to her, she told me not to push. When she's ready, she'll talk about it.’
But they were now learning things had become far worse at school. Nadia was suicidal, with severe mood swings. She'd told her counselor and doctor she couldn't sleep and was prescribed anti-depressants. And she kept talking about killing herself.
In her secret video diary, Nadia recalled the conversations she'd had with her counselor.
NADIA KAJOUJI: She asks. ‘Have you been thinking about suicide?’ I said yes. I am depressed. I have post-partum mood disorder, clinical depression and insomnia. ‘So have you yourself have thought about suicide?’ Yes, I've thought about suicide. What a shocker. Maybe I wouldn't be thinking about it if I could sleep. And be happy. But no, you're unwilling to give me the medication to get me to sleep.
Nadia's dorm mate, Krystal Leonov...
KRYSTAL LEONOV: She would lock herself in her room and not come out. We would try and knock on her door. Nothing. So I'd, like, call her, and I knew she was in her room, so I'd call her. And she wouldn't pick up her phone. Try to Facebook her, email her, and she just wouldn't come out. If she did come out, she was very different. She would look at you, but really wouldn't look at you. It was as if she wasn't there. Like, she wasn't the same person she was at the beginning.
Nadia's mother learned her daughter's behavior had become so alarming…her roommates had to call for help.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: I was told one of her roommates did call security one time and tell security that they believed she was suicidal.
But apparently no one had taken action, until that behavior became too much to ignore. A police officer told her father about another incident.
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: He said, ‘Well, your daughter, at one time, the ambulance have to pick her up from the Oasis Restaurant because she had a razor blade in her hand. And she was telling everybody if somebody doesn't help me, I'm going to hurt myself.’
But remember, her parents knew nothing about what went on at school until after Nadia had disappeared.
BOB MCKEOWN: So, a couple of months before she disappeared, she's telling people…
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: ‘I need help.’
BOB MCKEOWN: She'll kill herself if she doesn't get help. Nobody told you.
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: Yes, nobody. I believe that was in November or December when that happened.
And three months later, Nadia’s spirits had taken a precipitous plunge.
In her video diary, and in meetings with her counselor and doctor, she was openly threatening suicide.
NADIA KAJOUJI: Then when you admit that you've been thinking of suicide, they're like, ‘Well, what methods have you been thinking of?’ I don't know, all of them, any of them! Whatever would work, and I hate to sound so light-hearted about this, but come on.
As winter wore on, Nadia’s depression got worse.
NADIA KAJOUJI: It's snowing outside. That's why I did this in front of the window. I hoped you'd be able to see the snow because personally I like looking at the snow.
Haggard from lack of sleep, she struggled to find the right words...
NADIA KAJOUJI: I don't know if I can stay in school. I can't even go to class. I'm going to lose this semester. And it seems like it would be easy to start going to class and doing my work, but I can't. I can't function, and that was what the doctor said, that we should focus on getting me to function.
After Nadia went missing, the Ottawa police retrieved the laptop from her dorm room. A few weeks later, Detective Uday Jaswal went to the Kajouji’s home with the bad news about what they'd found.
DETECTIVE UDAY JASWAL: She had visited a number of online, sort of public suicide sites, looking at a variety of ways and methods to commit suicide.
And as bad as that was, Nadia’s parents learned something even more disturbing. Nadia had befriended someone she had met online, someone who seemed a kindred spirit—a young nurse who said she was also depressed and suicidal.
But this friend wasn't trying to cheer Nadia up or stop her from killing herself—far from it. According to the chats her parents now read, this nurse had been encouraging their daughter to end her life.
But, even with all they now knew, Nadia's mother clung to the hope her daughter was alive. Even if it meant imagining the unspeakable...
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: That was a horrible, horrible time. I actually, if you can imagine, I knew if she could have contacted me she would have phoned. She would have. Do you know what it's like for a parent to wish their child was abducted and being held? [crying] The only way I'd ever see her. I was the only hope I had. Sorry… [crying]
At the beginning of 2008, Nadia Kajouji was sinking into depression and careening towards suicide. She began visiting suicide websites and chat-rooms online, exploring ways to kill herself – but she wasn't doing it alone. There in cyberspace, she found someone who appeared to be a kindred spirit, seemingly another soul about to be lost. That person called herself “Cami D.”
[Actors are reading the chat taken from Nadia’s computer.]
Cami D: Hi. How ru doin?
Nadia: I'm okay. Tired, but okay … how are you?
Cami D: Umm. Not too good, hun. Still suicidal. Pretty bad. U?
Nadia: Well, the same.
She tells Nadia she's a young American nurse.
Nadia: So tell me your story.
Cami D: Well, I've had severe depression for 12 years. Meds, therapy, yoga, prayers … nothing has helped me get any better. So about 8 months or so ago, I started looking for methods to let go with. And since I've seen every method possible used, I know what does and doesn't work. So that's wht I chose hanging to use.
Nadia's parents were shocked as they read the chats their daughter had with her online friend.
Here, Cami D suggests a suicide pact with Nadia. Suicide – Nadia refers to it as "catching the bus."
Nadia: So when are you going to catch the bus?
Cami D: I would like to soon. U?
Nadia: I am planning to attempt this Sunday.
Cami D: Wow, ok. You want to use hanging too? Or can u?
Nadia: I'm going to jump.
Cami D wants Nadia to hang herself in front of her webcam. She promises she would watch to make sure Nadia is doing everything correctly. Then, Cami D says, she will hang herself right afterwards.
But that's not what Nadia wants. She says she wants her death to look like a skating accident, where she simply falls through the ice.
Nadia: There's a bridge over the river where there's a break in the ice. The water is really rough right now and it should carry me back under the ice so I can't come up for air. And if drowning doesn't get me, hopefully the hypothermia will.
The chats become more and more disturbing as Cami D keeps suggesting they hang themselves together online.
Cami D: If you wanted to do hanging we could have done it together online so it would not have been so scary for you.
Nadia: Ok. What sort of rope etc will I need?
Cami D: if you go to a home depot or A menard's or any kind of home improvement store, get yellow nylon rope about 8 feet or 3.5 meters and about ½ inch thick or about 3 cm. That is all you need and look around your apartment for somewhere to hang from.
Nadia: That is a really good way to go.
Cami D: Yes.
But Nadia keeps insisting she wants her death to look like an accident to be easier on family and friends. For all her efforts, Cami D can't persuade Nadia that hanging is the way to go. In her video diary, Nadia appears increasingly guilt-ridden.
NADI KAJOUJI: I feel bad wasting my parents' money on school. But I mean, what could I be doing instead? Could I work right now? I don't know.
Sunday evening, March 9th—the final chat between Nadia and her online suicide partner, Cami D.
[Actors are reading the chat taken from Nadia’s computer.]
Nadia:I'm glad that things are going to end tonight.
Cami D: So you think you'll be all done tonight?
Nadia: Yup for sure.
Remember, Cami D has promised she'll soon take her life, too.
Nadia: Well you will not be alone.
Cami D: I know, hun.
This may well have been Nadia’s final contact with anyone.
Nadia: I want to go now but there are too many people up and about.
Cami D: I wish we could go together, but I understand why.
Nadia: I have to wait for a few more hours.
Cami D: ok.
Nadia's father says when he saw the transcripts of her online chats about suicide, he knew that she was dead.
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: To me, honestly, I thought my daughter was gone.
Unfortunately, Nadia’s father was right. That cold winter night, Nadia came down here to the Rideau River adjacent to the Carleton campus and jumped. She would be missing for 6 weeks until her body was recovered downstream after the spring thaw.
MOHAMED KAJOUJI: They say parents are not supposed to bury their kids. That's—I guess that wasn't—I wasn't lucky I guess. If I die tomorrow, I really don't care.
As devastating as Nadia’s death was for her parents, family and friends, they were just beginning to ask questions about the circumstances surrounding Nadia’s suicide. And those questions would point to that friend whom she'd met in the suicide chat room – the person who called herself Cami D.
As you're about to see, Cami D was not who she said she was – not a suicide partner by any means, and still very much alive.
Six weeks after she went missing, Nadia Kajouji's body was discovered not far from her college campus.
CBC NEWS ANCHOR: There was sad news today for the family of a missing Carleton university student. Police have identified the body found yesterday in the Rideau River as that of Nadia Kajouji.
The cause of death was hypothermia. Nadia had committed suicide with the encouragement of someone she'd met on-line – someone using the name Cami D. But who was Cami D, and why would she want Nadia to kill herself? The answer to that question would come from a most unlikely place...
In the leafy corner of England where she lives, Celia Blay is known as a horsewoman. A retired school-teacher, after her elderly parents died, she began surfing the web...looking for others who understood her grief. One day, by accident, she found an online world she didn't know existed: Websites, chat-rooms, newsgroups...all dedicated to suicide.
CELIA BLAY: I think there are 7,000 sites online actually that deal with suicide one way or another. There's some really nasty places out there.
But Celia Blay uncovered something she considered far worse. It was on a website frequented by people struggling with whether or not to kill themselves… people like Nadia Kajouji.
CELIA BLAY: Sometimes it's a serious and helpful and supportive site. Other times, there are people deliberately trying to push others over the edge.
Celia began chatting online with a suicidal 17-year-old girl from South America.
CELIA BLAY: She wrote to me out of the blue, saying she was in a suicide pact. And I tried to persuade her not to go ahead with it. She said she was going to hang herself on Friday afternoon at 4 o'clock.
Celia learned that, like Nadia, this girl said she was in a suicide pact with someone the girl had met online, someone using the screen name li dao.
BOB MCKEOWN: And what did she know about li dao?
CELIA BLAY: I think she said she was in her 20s or early 30s, yes, same age, a young nurse. Told my friend how to hang herself and suggested that they time it by doing it in front of a webcam so that they'd hang together.
Remember the person Nadia had her suicide pact with, Cami D, also claimed to be a young nurse. But soon, Celia Blay found something even more chilling – apparently there were many others in that same chat-room, all in suicide pacts with the same online character, li dao.
CELIA BLAY: People started comparing notes in the suicide newsgroup, and several people discovered that they were all in identical pacts with the same person – to hang themselves at virtually the same time in front of a webcam.
BOB MCKEOWN: And what was it, from their point of view, that made the person they thought they were communicating with so convincing?
CELIA BLAY: She was very, very sympathetic. She'd call them 'hun' and she'd say I understand.
One after the other, Celia Blay uncovered suicide pacts between the American nurse and troubled young people virtually everywhere – here in Britain, Europe, Latin America. There were dozens of them.
And Blay believed that if she took the transcripts of those online conversations to her local police station, there would be more than enough evidence to trigger an investigation. But, as she was about to find out, it wouldn't be that easy.
She was convinced those suicide pacts were the work of a predator of the worst kind—trying to push others to kill themselves by promising to do the same.
She knew it was against the law in England to encourage or help someone to commit suicide, so she took her evidence to the police in her village. But they, it seemed, couldn't care less.
CELIA BLAY: Yes, they didn't want anything to do with it. It could be somebody else's problem. As I walked out of the police station, the parting shot was, ‘If it bothers you, look the other way.’
So,like a real world Miss Marple, Blay began her own hunt to uncover the identity of that online nurse who seemed so eager to help other people die. She realized that li dao was just one of a number of screen names being used by that nurse, among them "falcon girl."
So Celia Blay set up a kind of live on-line sting with the help of another young woman with whom the nurse had been communicating. They asked the nurse to e-mail a photograph and got back this picture. The nurse had been sending that photo to other people as well, saying that the woman in the photo was her.
Both had their webcams activated. And that's when something incredible happened at the other end: For just a few seconds, this person stepped in front of the webcam. Blay and the woman quickly took a picture of the screen with a cell phone.
From this frozen image of that moment, one thing was clear to Celia Blay: The person claiming to be a young American nurse, the one behind all those suicide pacts she'd been investigating, was no female, but a middle-aged man. The same one right there in that family portrait.
BOB MCKEOWN: Now why would he do that if he's pretending to be a female?
CELIA BLAY: Because they'd been talking for quite a while, and I think he trusted her. And she said, ‘Oh my god, you're a bloke.’ And he said, ‘Does it matter?’ And she says no.
Then he made another error—inadvertently revealing his true identity.
CELIA BLAY: He makes a mistake. He uses his real name in the heading of an email.
The name is William Melchert-Dinkel. He lives on this quiet street in Fairbault, Minnesota. And he not only used the screen names li dao and falcon girl, but also cami-d, the supposed online friend who'd coached Nadia Kajouji to kill herself that cold winter night in Ottawa.
Celia Blay believed she had found a killer – and that she had to take her evidence back to the police.
At home in England, amateur detective Celia Blay had spent a year and a half tracking down the person behind all those phony online suicide pacts with unsuspecting depressed people like Nadia Kajouji.
Though Celia didn't know about Nadia at the time, she traced emails she had found to one internet protocol address, belonging to a computer in this house.
It's the home of 46-year-old William Melchert-Dinkel, who really is a nurse. He lives here with his wife and two daughters, girls about the same age as the young people he'd encouraged to hang themselves while he watched.
Celia Blay knew a great deal about William Melchert-Dinkel—who he was, where he lived and, most importantly, what he was doing online.
She decided to pay another visit to the British police at headquarters here in the city of Birmingham. This time she thought surely there was enough evidence for them to finally take the case. But again, no such luck.
Knowing he was in the United States, through a friend, Blay tried to get her evidence to the FBI. But, unbeknownst to her at the time, the material never made it to the bureau.
By this time, she had read about Nadia Kajouji's suicide in Ottawa, and her contact with Cami D — aka Melchert-Dinkel – so Blay notified the police in Canada. Canada, too, has a very specific law against assisting suicide. But authorities there made just a single phone call to Minnesota.
Uday Jaswal, a detective with the Ottawa police, says he couldn't be sure it was Melchert-Dinkel using the computer.
DETECTIVE UDAY JASWAL: What I can tell you is, ultimately, we didn't get the result that we wanted in that we weren't able to identify who was in fact in conversation with Nadia.
BOB MCKEOWN: Now this is a conversation taking place on a computer identified by that IP address, that internet protocol address.
DETECTIVE UDAY JASWAL: Correct.
BOB MCKEOWN: At that house in Faribault, Minnesota.
DETECTIVE UDAY JASWAL: Exactly. So it doesn't provide us the information of who was actually at the keyboard, how many persons might be at that residence, et cetera.
BOB MCKEOWN: Well, except we know how many people are at that address. It's Mr. Melchert-Dinkel, his wife and two teenage daughters.
DETECTIVE UDAY JASWAL: And certainly we received information about the family composition there. But again, to the threshold that the courts require that identification to be made, we were not successful in obtaining that.
In other words, no one in Canada was trying to pursue William Melchert-Dinkel. And, all the while, Celia Blay's list of Melchert-Dinkel's alleged victims kept growing.
CELIA BLAY: And since I first tried to get contact with the police, I think it must be around five people have died, maybe more for all I know.
Blay says he also encouraged at least one teenager to slice herself with a razor blade.
According to Celia Blay, one 16-year-old who Melchert-Dinkel told how to cut herself was from the Netherlands – screen name "fallenfall." Celia says she communicated with her directly and saw her chats.
CELIA BLAY: He's quite voyeuristic. He wanted to see the young ones who were self-harming cut themselves in front of a webcam and this sort of business, as well. You know, 16-year-olds we're talking of here.
For Celia Blay, it must have seemed like the end of the line—no prosecution in Canada, no interest by the British police, and William Melchert-Dinkel still online.
But then, one last hope: When Blay discovered the existence of something called "The Task Force on Internet Crimes against Children," based here at the police department in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Sgt. Paul Schnell says Minnesota is particularly tough on assisted suicide.
SERGEANT SCHNELL: Anyone who encourages, aids or directs another to take their own life has violated Minnesota's law around assisting suicide.
BOB MCKEOWN: Whether or not a suicide actually ensues?
SERGEANT SCHNELL: Right.
Celia Blay sent her files to the internet task force. Investigators began sorting through the evidence.
SERGEANT SCHNELL: She provided key information that wasn't just somebody callin’ in and sayin', ‘I think this is going on.’ She said, ‘I learned of this. I looked into this. This is what I found. You should check it out.’
But even as the St. Paul police were trying to make a case, and though Celia Blay had sent out warnings about Melchert-Dinkel, he was apparently still trolling for people to push to suicide.
This 19-year-old Canadian woman asked us to hide her identity. She told us that Melchert-Dinkel tried to encourage her to suicide for five months. She was contacted in August of 2008, after Blay had given her evidence to the St. Paul police.
But this young lady had already known about Melchert-Dinkel, having been warned by members of her chat group.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I didn't confront him right away basically. I just kind of rolled into it.
She continued to talk to him, knowing full well who he was.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I already knew his intentions basically. He wanted to watch them die. So that's why he was kind of pushy on hanging and...
BOB MCKEOWN: Pushy?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, cause he wanted me to die, like, see, like, well, basically he'd be like, ‘Do you want to die soon? Maybe Monday or something like that? Can you die maybe Saturday?’ Little things like that, insinuating that he wants to watch me or something.
BOB MCKEOWN: Was there mention of a webcam?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.
Five months after those chats, and more than nine months after first receiving the information from Celia Blay, Minnesota investigators made the one-hour drive to Melchert-Dinkel's house in Faribault and knocked on his door.
SERGEANT SCHNELL: They were greeted by Mr. Melchert-Dinkel. He was cooperative.
According to documents filed here at the courthouse in Faribault, when investigators told Melchert-Dinkel what they wanted to talk about, he almost immediately admitted that he'd pretended to be a young female nurse and had used various screen names to encourage people to kill themselves. He estimated that five of those he'd spoken with had succeeded in ending their lives, but later said the real death toll could be in the dozens. As to why he did it, he told them it was "...the thrill of the chase."
SERGEANT SCHNELL: It's hard for any of us to really understand how you could seek great thrill when people are in such a difficult time in their life.
BOB MCKEOWN: When the investigators came back from that meeting with him, what did they say? How did they describe what had transpired there?
SERGEANT SCHNELL: They were stunned that, first of all, somebody would engage in—in this to start with. But then, his comfort even around talking about this issue and his involvement I think was—was stunning.
The investigators took William Melchert-Dinkel's computer and, according to their affidavit, found more evidence.
... You can easily hang from a door...
... Attach the noose or loop to yourself...
...then step off and hang successfully...
The police say Melchert-Dinkel sent an email to 32-year-old Mark Dryborough in England with instructions about how to "hang successfully."
As he did with many others, Melchert-Dinkel had communicated with Dryborough online as the female nurse li dao, who promised to commit suicide after he did.
Mark Dyborough's mother, Elaine, discovered her son had emailed Melchert-Dinkel just hours before he hanged himself in 2005. His sister Carol found him.
BOB MCKEOWN: He'd written a note that he'd left there.
ELAINE DRYBOROUGH: Yes.
BOB MCKEOWN: So she saw the note first?
ELAINE DRYBOROUGH: Yes. And it said, ‘Don't go upstairs,’ but she did.
She'd found her brother dead, hanging from a rope around his neck.
Back in Minnesota, Melchert-Dinkel told investigators he usually instructed people to put the knot of the rope behind their left ear. Citing the autopsy, police say Mark Dryborough did it all just as Melchert-Dinkel had instructed.
BOB MCKEOWN: He's not in prison and he hasn't been charged, so he's a free man. If he were sitting here, what would you say to him?
ELAINE DRYBOROUGH: I can't even—I can't deal with that at all. I think he's lost his humanity to do that to people like that.
And, according to the Minnesota police, they found something else on Melchert-Dinkel's computer – a photo of Nadia Kajouji.
And perhaps the saddest irony of all: Nadia had still been alive when Celia Blay first went to the authorities in England.
BOB MCKEOWN: Do you believe that if the police had taken you seriously when you first contacted them that she might not have died?
CELIA BLAY: I think it's possible because he always went quiet when there was any sort of heat, you know.
Minnesota police had visited Melchert-Dinkel in January of 2009, but by last fall – months later – there was still no indictment. He was still living in the same house in Faribault, perhaps still online. So, if the police weren't turning up the heat, we thought we'd do a bit of that ourselves.
BOB MCKEOWN: Mr. Dinkel. Hi. I'm Bob McKeown. We'd like to talk to you about Nadia Kajouji.
From Nadia Kajouji's computer in her dorm room in Canada, and from dozens of other computers all over the world, the connection to William Melchert-Dinkel led here...to southern Minnesota and the town of Faribault, population 22,000.
It's tidy, middle-class, and home of the Faribault High School Falcons, where William Melchert-Dinkel apparently got one of his screen names, falcon girl.
To neighbors, he was an unimposing family man – but soon after the police questioned about Nadia Kajouji's death, Melchert-Dinkel went to the local emergency room.
According to hospital records, he complained that he suffered from a “suicide fetish” and addiction to internet suicide websites. He said he felt “guilty” and “worthless.”
Since then, the Minnesota Board of Nursing has revoked his license, citing a long list of incompetence, his mistreatment of patients, and his "unethical conduct" in aiding suicides.
But by the fall of 2009, there was still no arrest, no charges and no day in court for William Melchert-Dinkel.
Something Nadia Kajouji's mother found hard to live with...
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: I want charges laid. I want them laid in Minnesota, actually, not here. And I want him to be found guilty and go to jail, thereby sending a very clear message to internet predators because there are a lot more of them out there. And it will send a very clear message that the internet does not provide them a sanctuary.
But Sergeant Paul Schnell of the St. Paul police says his state's assisted suicide law has never been used to prosecute someone for encouraging suicide over the internet.
SERGEANT SCHNELL: We end up in a spot where these are very complex investigations that are no longer somebody victimizing their neighbor, or somebody in a nearby community. We're now talking about being able to do it on the other side of the world.
This is not only an issue in Minnesota... There are now laws against encouraging or assisting suicide in 43 U.S. states, and federal legislation is now in the early stages in Washington. Despite that, we could not find even a single case in the U.S. in which someone was successfully prosecuted for aiding suicide over the internet. And tragically, there are other people using cyberspace to encourage vulnerable people to kill themselves.
In 2003, 19-year-old Suzanne Gonzales killed herself with a cyanide cocktail in a Tallahassee motel room. Gonzales was told how to make the deadly mixture by someone she met online.
In 2007 in England, 42-year old Kevin Whitrik hanged himself in front of his web cam. About 100 people watched him die.
In 2008, 1,500 people watched 19-year-old Abraham Biggs take a deadly overdose of pills in front of his webcam at his home near Miami.
And last fall, William Melchert-Dinkel was still living in the same house in Faribault, Minnesota. He didn't respond to requests for an interview, so we approached him as he was out shopping.
BOB MCKEOWN: Mr. Dinkel, I'm Bob McKeown. I'd like to talk to you about Nadia Kajouji, the young woman you encouraged to kill herself…which she did.
WILLIAM MELCHERT-DINKEL: Okay.
BOB MCKEOWN: Can you tell me why you did that sir?
WILLIAM MELCHERT-DINKEL: No comment.
BOB MCKEOWN: You have daughters yourself. How on earth would you feel if someone online, such as you, pretending to be a young woman, in a moment of weakness, encouraged them to commit suicide? Can you explain what was going through your mind?
WILLIAM MELCHERT-DINKEL: What?
BOB MCKEOWN: You know that counseling to commit suicide is against the law? Why should you not be prosecuted for that?
At the time, he told another reporter that "nothing is going to come of it," and that he had "moved on" with his life.
But, earlier this year, the St. Paul investigators turned their evidence over to the prosecutor in Melchert-Dinkel's home town. Rice County district attorney Paul Beaumaster began to pore over the files.
SERGEANT SCHNELL: He looked at the evidence that had been amassed over the course of the investigation. He looked at the Minnesota law and asked himself that key prosecutorial question. Is there a likelihood that we could prevail in the prosecution?
This past April, more than two years after Nadia Kajouji killed herself, county attorney Beaumaster answered that question and took the unprecedented step of charging William Melchert-Dinkel with abetting Nadia Kajouji's suicide and the suicide of 32-year-old Mark Dryborough. It is the first time Minnesota’s anti-suicide law has been used in a case like this.
Remember, Melchert-Dinkel never met Nadia Kajouji or Mark Dryborough in person and wasn't with them when they died.
The prosecutor wouldn't talk to us with the case pending.
But, in May, William Melchert-Dinkel had to come to the courthouse five minutes from his house to face the allegations—all because a woman thousands of miles away wouldn't give up.
His lawyer also declined our request for an interview.
For now, while the case is pending, the judge has barred Melchert-Dinkel from using the internet.
BOB MCKEOWN: Is it possible that without Celia Blay – if she hadn't spent two years of her life dealing with strangers online – that you still wouldn't know what he had done and possibly would still be doing?
SERGEANT SCHNELL: It's very, very clearly possible that were it not for her, her persistence, that this man could still be out there exploiting people at their darkest hour.
Nadia Kajouji's mother, Deborah Chevalier…
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: I've never understood why it's such an issue getting charges laid or why it took so long. To me, that's open and shut.
For Nadia's family, even after the long-awaited charges, there were mixed emotions.
DEBORAH CHEVALIER: I was literally laughing and crying simultaneously. It was, it was just an overwhelming experience. It's bringing back so many sad memories, so many things that you'd rather not think about, and that I spend most of my time trying to forget. Um, but at the same time, it's substantiated what I've felt all along.
If you are in crisis, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-723-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
A Carleton University spokesman declined Dateline's request for an interview. To view the university's response,