Canadian man charged with murder in sprawling international investigation into ‘suicide kits’ sold online

Inspector Simon James of York Regional Police speaks to the media during a news conference in Mississauga, Ont, on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023. Canadian police said Tuesday, Dec. 12 they are charging the man with 14 counts of second-degree murder along with the previously announced 14 charges of aiding suicide for allegedly selling lethal substances on the internet to people at risk of self harm. An international investigation is underway following the arrest in Canada earlier this year of Kenneth Law, who was initially charged with two counts of counseling and aiding suicide. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press via AP)

An international investigation is underway following the arrest in Canada earlier this year of Kenneth Law, who was initially charged with two counts of counseling and aiding suicide.Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press/APCNN — 

They live an ocean apart from one another but now share a bond of anguish and outrage over the suicide deaths of their children.

David Parfett and David Ramirez describe stories of grief that are remarkably similar. Both are fathers to young adults who were talented and loving but vulnerable, they say, to mental health challenges in recent years.

Tom Parfett died in 2021 in England, Noelle Ramirez in 2022 in Colorado.

“Tom was such a gifted kid,” said Parfett, taking in a framed photo of his son with a smile.

“Such a light of bravery and freedom,” said Ramirez of his daughter, struggling to take in her memory without tearing up.

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Both died from a lethal dose of sodium nitrite they bought online – a potentially toxic salt legally used in smaller doses as a meat preservative.

This week in Ontario, police charged Kenneth Law with 14 counts of second-degree murder, in addition to earlier charges of 14 counts of counseling and aiding suicide already laid against him.

Law is now in custody and will appear in court in Ontario on December 19, police have announced.

Law’s lawyer, Matthew Gourlay, told CNN in a statement: “Mr. Law will be pleading not guilty to these new charges of second degree murder, which are in addition to the assisting suicide charges he was already facing. These novel allegations will be vigorously contested in court.”

The new charges against Law all relate to 14 alleged victims in Ontario. Police, however, say their investigation continues and they do not rule out more charges in Canada or other countries.

“We are collaborating with law enforcement agencies on a daily basis, globally, in countries all over the world,” said Insp. Simon James, of York Regional Police, at a news briefing Tuesday near Toronto.

James is leading a multi-jurisdictional investigation in Ontario and says authorities are investigating reports that Law may have sent more than 1,200 toxic packages intended for self-harm to people in more than 40 countries.

Parfett told CNN he had for months suspected his son Tom found the means and the encouragement to end his life online. He says he did some detective work in the weeks after his son’s death – all in an effort to understand how easily his son obtained the toxic substance.

“Within 2 to 3 months I’d actually ordered poison from Ken Law. At the time, I did not know that it was the exact same path as my son. It actually demonstrated how easy it was,” Parfett told CNN in an interview from his home in London.

Ramirez says he, too, painstakingly traced his daughter’s steps to better understand how she managed to end her life.

“You can’t buy a bomb online and have it delivered. This chemical is deadly,” said Ramirez in an interview with CNN from his workplace in Montrose, Colorado.

Both men say more investigation needs to be done in their countries and elsewhere.

Canadian police say they continue to gather more evidence, which is what led to the new charges of second degree murder against Law. His alleged victims range in age from 16 to 36, they say.

According to the British National Crime Agency, 272 people have been identified as having purchased products from websites connected to Law in a two-year period up to April 2023.

The NCA, in a statement to CNN, said that “subsequent inquiries have found that 89 people have sadly died.” The agency adds that “in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, the NCA has taken the decision to conduct an investigation into potential criminal offences committed in the UK. This operation is underway.”

Sodium nitrite is commonly used as a preservative for meat and fish, in metal treatment and finishing, as an antidote to cyanide and as a color fixative, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. It is not illegal to buy but is regulated and is relatively unknown except for having gained popularity over the past few years on internet suicide forums.

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers is trying to pass legislation that would ban the sale of highly concentrated sodium nitrite. But for now it remains available online in the US and many other countries.

When Tom Parfett died at age 22 in October 2021, he was studying philosophy at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. His father remembers Tom as a highly intelligent, sensitive young man with strong friendships and a real love for football, particularly for Manchester United.

Noelle Ramirez was born on May 3, 2002, in Denver, Colorado. When she died at age 20, two months before her 21st birthday, she had been in the process of transitioning and was undergoing therapy while attending college a short distance from her parent’s home. Her father describes her as kind and “so friendly, open to everyone, such a light of bravery and freedom.” He said she would build computers for her friends who couldn’t afford them.

Tom and Noelle had more in common than being a part of Generation Z, having lived through the turbulence of Covid 19 lockdowns and endured personal struggles as well as the pressures facing young people today.

The investigations continue slowly, and Parfett believes had it not been for an independent investigation led by The Times newspaper in London earlier this year, Law may have never been charged with any crimes.

“It actually cost lives. There was an opportunity there, for police for authorities to close this down, to close this down quickly,” said Parfett.

Seated at his home in London, surrounded by framed photographs of Tom, David Parfett says there is no doubt in his mind that Tom could have been saved had he not been encouraged and supplied with the means to take his own life.

“How come my precious kid, in my view, be influenced to take his own life. Knowing him as I do, as I did, I really don’t think that is something Tom would do of his own volition,” Parfett said.

It is a sentiment shared by Ramirez and his family. Noelle, says Ramirez, would be alive were it not for Law’s website, and he believes that Law went as far as coaching Noelle on how to end her life.

“I had followed the trail of receipts and, you know, the packaging and these type of things,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he believes with his “whole heart that my daughter would be here. She was a good person. We kept her safe. We kept her safe. We couldn’t, I guess, we couldn’t keep you safe from everything. I believe in my heart that she would be here today. Without him.”

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