Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 9 News List

DeathSpace on the Web

An independent Web stie is memorializing dead MySpace members. The effect, for some, is like seeing the heart of darkness

By Meghan Barr  /  AP , NEW YORK

Somewhere deep in cyberspace, where reality blurs into fiction and the living greet the dead, there are ghosts.

They live in a virtual graveyard without tombstones or flowers. They drift among the shadows of the people they used to be, and the pieces they left behind.

Allison Bauer left rainbows: Reds, yellows and blues, festooned across her MySpace profile in a collage of color. Before her corpse was pulled from the depths of an Oregon gorge on May 9, where police say she leapt to her death, she unwittingly wrote her own epitaph.

"I love color, Pure Color in rainbow form, And I love My friends," the 20-year-old wrote under "Interests" on her profile. "And I love to Love, I care about everyone so much you have no idea."

Now her page fills a plot on www.MyDeathSpace.com, a Web site that archives the pages of deceased MySpace members.

Behold a community spawned from twin American obsessions: Memorializing the dead and peering into strangers' lives. Anyone with Internet access can submit a death to the site, which currently lists nearly 2,700 deaths and receives more than 100,000 hits per day.

The tales are mostly those of the very young who died prematurely. Here, death roams cyberspace in all its spectral forms: senseless and indiscriminate, sometimes premeditated, often brutally graphic. It's also a place where the living -- those who knew the deceased and those who didn't -- discuss this world and the next.

There's a boy, 16, who passed out in the shower and drowned. There's a 20-year-old whose body was discovered burned to death on a hiking trail; and a woman, 21, who overdosed on drugs and was found dead in a portable toilet, authorities say.

Their fates have been sealed, but their spirits remain very much alive -- frozen in time, for all the world to see.

Scrolling down a dead person's MySpace profile wall is like journeying into the past. The pages were abandoned hastily, without warning. Most telling is the date of each person's last log-in.

For 16-year-old Stephanie Wagner, it was Sept. 29, 2006 -- a month before she was strangled and stabbed on Halloween night. Her frivolous teenage profile pales against the terrible facts of her murder.

"This site does kind of let you look into the heart of darkness," says Bob Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "We see those kinds of things that we try not to think about, which is how we are all dancing on the edge -- how quickly mortality can come in and claim us."

The human bits scattered carelessly across each profile form a vivid clip of life in motion. It's a final resting place for the various "selves" people project online: the ironic self, the joyful self, the bitter self, the courageous self.

"I do not fear what the future holds for me," Navy Hospitalman Geovani Padilla-Aleman, 20, blogged months before he was killed in Iraq. "I will stand and fight. I am not afraid to die."

Weeks before she stood in the path of a commuter train, Cheryl Lynn Duca pondered mortality in a poem: "over my life i've watched people die in front of me. wondering why this happens."

Many families of the deceased leave the profiles up as memorials. Each profile "wall" -- a feature MySpace members typically use to post messages to each other -- becomes a conduit for one-way communications with the departed. Days are marked by post-mortem birthday wishes or life updates.

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