Ruling based on suicide cases sheds light on dark online world.
Using the online aliases "Li Dao'' and "Falcon Girl,'' a male nurse from southern Minnesota participated in international suicide chat rooms and presented himself as an expert in suicide techniques, according to documents compiled by the Minnesota Board of Nursing. At least two people using those chat rooms ultimately did commit suicide.
In an order made public this week, the board said it has concluded a months-long investigation of the man's behavior and revoked his nursing license.
But taking legal action against him is proving more difficult.
The state Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, based in St. Paul, initiated the investigation against William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, last year. After the task force notified the nursing board of the investigation, the board suspended his license in February and revoked it permanently in June.
However, while the criminal investigation is still underway, no charges have been filed against him.
"It's a complicated investigation," said Sgt. Paul Schnell, spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department. "It's international, and it's sensitive because we're talking about suicide." Schnell said that authorities have yet to determine what jurisdiction would take on the decision whether to prosecute Melchert-Dinkel.
The case opens a window into the dark world of Internet suicide chat rooms, where people from across the globe meet online to talk about suicide and how to do it. In rare instances they create suicide pacts.
In 2004, Japan was shocked by the news that nine people committed suicide as part of pacts created on the Internet. They were strangers who met and planned their deaths via suicide websites.
According to nursing board documents, Melchert-Dinkel suggested to others in the chat rooms that he could die at the same time they did, and he twice watched through his webcam as they took their own lives.
He failed to appear for any of the board's proceedings involving his case. A call to his home in Faribault on Wednesday was not answered.
Melchert-Dinkel presented himself as a female nurse working in Minnesota whose job "gave him expert knowledge into the most effective way to kill yourself," according to board documents.
In Ottawa, Ontario, Nadia Kajouji, a depressed 18-year-old college student, was one of the people he apparently had contact with. Her body was found last spring in the Rideau River in Ottawa. Her story has received wide media attention in Canada.
Last year on Internet news groups that were devoted to chatting about suicidal thoughts and methods, anonymous posters warned of a predator who used the names Falcon Girl and Li Dao, who targeted the vulnerable to watch them die on webcam. They also said that although Falcon Girl posed as woman, he was actually a male Minnesota nurse.
In August, one person posted a copy of a chat she had with Li Dao, who not only gave advice on what type of method to use and how much rope to buy, but also indicated that they could die at the same time on webcam. Panos, the St. Paul police spokesman, would not confirm what screen names the man may have used.
A 32-year-old man in England who committed suicide was also traced back to him, the board document said.
In January, before the nursing board took action against him, Melchert-Dinkel went to a hospital emergency room in Faribault, told the admitting nurse that police were investigating him, and admitted to a four-year history of assisting suicide on the Internet.
The next day, after he was transferred to an Owatonna hospital, an admissions report said that Melchert-Dinkel said he was "dealing with addiction to suicide Internet sites [and] feeling guilty because of past and present advice to those on the Internet of how to end their lives." The admissions report added that while posing as a 28-year-old female nurse he "formed suicide pacts that he had no intention of following through."
Nursing board records show a history of problems in Melchert-Dinkel's career dating to 1994, when he worked as a licensed practical nurse at Ebenezer Luther Hall in Minneapolis and later at United Hospital in St. Paul.
Records show he was reprimanded repeatedly for sloppy care, unprofessional behavior and "poor critical thinking skills." In 2003, restrictions against his license were lifted after he completed 1,000 hours of supervised work, board records show.
Like most other states, Minnesota has a law that punishes anyone who "intentionally advises, encourages, or assists" others with suicide. But experts say such laws are rarely used and nearly impossible to enforce.
Staff Writer Josephine Marcotty contributed to this story. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482