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Michigan mom raises awareness after son’s tragic sextortion-driven suicide

I gave up on the idea of working and called John, Jordan’s father. A few minutes later, he called me back. “Jenn, he’s gone,” he said. He explained that he found Jordan lifeless on the bed. “He shot himself,” John added. I started screaming, denying the reality of what was happening.

  • 4 weeks ago
  • June 25, 2024
9 min read
journalist’s notes
subject interview
 Jennifer Buta, a dedicated mother of three, utilizes her TikTok platform @jennbuta to raise awareness about the hidden dangers of social media, particularly highlighting the experiences of her son, Jordan. With a following of over 65,000, Jennifer educates and informs her audience on safeguarding against online threats.
background information
The FBI received around 13,000 reports of financial sextortion between October 2021 and March 2023. According to the FBI, between January 2021 and July 2023, at least 20 teenagers have committed suicide due to the threat of an embarrassing photo ruining their lives.
 
US law enforcement has successfully pursued scammers abroad on several occasions: after Jordan DeMay shot himself, two Nigerian brothers, Samuel Ogoshi, 22, and Samson Ogoshi, 20, were arrested in Lagos last summer following an FBI investigation and extradited to Michigan. In April they both pleaded guilty to conspiring to exploit teenage boys – there were hundreds more victims, according to the FBI – which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Their trial will be held in September.

MICHIGAN, United States — Two years ago, my life shattered when my son ended his own life as the tragic result of social media sextortion. The pain of his loss weighs on me constantly, heavier than I ever thought I could bear. Yet, I discovered a purpose. I honor his memory by sharing his story, hoping to shield other children from the same fate.

Through the TikTok account my son set up for me, I spread this crucial message. Turning a platform that once connected us into a space of awareness and prevention, I strive to make sure his story saves lives and protects others from the dangers lurking online.

Related: Irish writer blackmailed after sending nudes with a connection from Hinge, goes public with his story.

On March 24, 2022, I saw my son for the last time

A few years ago, when my son Jordan noticed me watching videos on Instagram, he approached with a mischievous grin on his face. He took my phone and said, “No, you have to use TikTok.” Within seconds, he downloaded the app, created an account for me, and handed it back. We stood in the kitchen at home, laughing and being accomplices. That was our relationship. That account remained inactive until I resorted to using it at the worst moment of my life. On March 24, 2022, I saw my son for the last time.

Of course, I didn’t know it then. Jordan was a happy boy. He did well in school, was a sporty kid, and had a romantic relationship. Our relationship remained close, joking all the time. That afternoon, he left the house with a suitcase to go on holiday with his father. I hugged him tightly, as I did every day, certain to see him in a couple of weeks. The sound of the suitcase’s wheels rolling on the concrete echoed as I watched him walk away. I went home to get my dog and went about my day as usual.

Soon after, my phone began to ring. Jordan called me from a grocery store asking me to help him choose between two products. It was something he did all the time. We chatted a bit, his face close-up on the screen with the store aisles in the background. That was the last time I saw him alive.

Unspoken goodbyes: A mother’s heartbreak

There was nothing special about our farewell on that call; nothing to indicate it would be a different kind of night. After our call, I put my young daughters to sleep and went to bed. Before falling asleep myself, I exchanged a few text messages with Jordan. He seemed excited and we talked about our favorite basketball team.

While I slept, the horror began, but I wouldn’t know it until a few days later. At that very moment, Jordan started chatting with someone online. The pressure from this interaction threw him completely off balance. In the early hours of the morning, he took his own life in a bedroom at his father’s house.

The next morning, the alarm clock went off as usual. I woke up and saw a message from Jordan on my phone: “Mom, I love you,” it said. I smiled, gratified by the loving son I had. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because he was often caring and sometimes texted in the early hours while playing online with his friends. “I love you too, hope you slept well,” I replied.

Completely unaware of what happened during the night, I went about my day. I woke my daughters and took them to the nursery. After dropping them off, I felt a little disturbed that Jordan hadn’t responded. He usually replied right away, and he should have been awake by then, on his way to school. I texted him again, “Are you okay?” A sense of unease began to grow inside me, though I couldn’t quite put it together yet.

Facing my son’s suicide: “I paced back and forth in my house, desperate, and I couldn’t feel my legs”

At home, I turned on my computer to get to work, but Jordan’s lack of response kept me from concentrating. Something felt wrong, and I needed to find out to get on with my day. I called his girlfriend, who was also supposed to be at school. When she told me Jordan failed to show up that morning, I felt an overwhelming, strange sensation—a twist in my stomach telling me something terrible happened. The feeling grew quickly and intensely until it engulfed me, and I thought of nothing else.

I gave up on the idea of working and called John, Jordan’s father. A few minutes later, he called me back. “Jenn, he’s gone,” he said. He explained that he found Jordan’s lifeless on the bed. “He shot himself,” John added. I started screaming, denying the reality of what was happening. I desperately paced back and forth in my house, and I couldn’t feel my legs. It felt like floating. I could not understand what could have happened. Part of me believed what John was saying, but another part of me couldn’t process it, couldn’t accept it was real.

My disorientation remained absolute. As the closest person in the world to Jordan, I couldn’t think of any reason why he would take his own life. I spoke to him only a few hours before and he sounded fine, as always. When I finally shook off the initial shock, I needed to piece this story together. There had to be something else behind it all.

I learned that my son had been the victim of international extortion

As I set about the immediate task and horrible responsibility of arranging my son’s funeral, Jordan’s girlfriend wrote to me. She said someone tried extorting her on Instagram. They claimed to possess compromising photos of my son and demanded money in exchange for not releasing them. This became our first clue. With that information, I went to the police.

Forty-eight hours later, Instagram retrieved the conversation my son deleted from his phone, helping us tie up loose ends. I learned my son became a victim of international extortion, quickly pushing him to the edge. Feeling cornered, he no longer wanted to live. The information filled me with fury, which mixed with the deep sadness I felt.

Jordan’s death hit me hard, but the shock of the revelations that followed added new layers of darkness to my grief, making everything feel surreal. The weight of mourning while navigating a parallel police and judicial process overwhelmed me. I struggled to keep from collapsing under the strain of it all, unsure how to manage the relentless turmoil.

I also had my young daughters at home, ages one and three. I needed to appear strong and stable for them, to show them a mother capable of supporting them. It felt incredibly hard to deal with the death of my son while parenting such little girls. They could not fully understand. Now and then, in their innocence, they asked, “When is Jordan coming back? He hasn’t been here for a long time.”

Spreading awareness on TikTok: “We have to tell everyone.”

Each question my daughters asked felt like being slap in the face. It knocked me down. I remember taking a deep breath to avoid bursting into tears in front of them. Barely keeping my composure, I explained again we would no longer see their brother. At the same time, I told the girls, even if we don’t see Jordan, he will care for and love you forever.

In those days, I took some of Jordan’s things and distributed them to his friends and family members as mementos. Yet, most of his belongings remain where he left them. His room remains intact. I go in there, take a deep breath, and smell his scent. Sometimes, I pick up his notebooks, open them, and contemplate his handwriting. I look at his books and the objects he decorated his room with. It feels like a way of seeing my son in front of me. I am not ready to take his space apart yet.

When the police told us Jordan fell victim to sextortion, my first thought was, “We have to tell everyone.” I remained a very present mother and knew nothing about this. That tells me sextortion remains unknown to most mothers. I immediately asked the police to make an official statement detailing what happened to Jordan, to raise awareness.

Then I remembered the TikTok account my son opened for me. I didn’t know how to use it; I had never uploaded a video. Yet, there was some irony in learning to use TikTok to talk about my son’s death. Containing my emotions, I recorded myself talking about Jordan and uploaded the first few videos. The responses felt overwhelming. Many parents embraced me from afar and shared their own stories.

Warning others about social media sextortion: “I can’t get my son back but I can help save other lives”

Some of the stories I heard proved tragic, much like Jordan’s case. In other cases, parents managed to spot the signs early. Several people told me that after watching my videos, they talked to their children and prevented them from falling into the same trap. It felt like a caress to my soul, confirming my path in advocacy. I can’t get my son back but I can help save other lives.

While my work proves useful and serves as a legacy Jordan left me, the grieving process feels like it will never end. My life will never be the same without my son. I have to learn to live with this pain to go on in my day-to-day life. I understand it will never go away.

Sometimes, things happen that make me feel Jordan’s presence again. I don’t know if I take them as signs, but it seems funny they often appear when I face a difficult time. Suddenly, I see his old truck on the street, and memories flood my mind. I think of the joy and freedom he experienced driving on his own. At other times, a song we both loved plays on the radio, and I remember us singing together, belting it out, and I smile. It never feels painful to remember him.

Jordan used to tell us all, “I got you.” So, we made t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the phrase so everyone in the community could remember him. With the proceeds from the sale and the funds raised from a walk in his honor, we aid others with scholarships to attend his secondary school. We try to keep his memory alive, and this phrase brings us together.

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