"1-800 Jokes. What is your emergency?" "I need something on teen suicide, quick. I have a deadline to meet, and I don't want to come off like an asshole." "Please hold." "Alright, my supervisor suggests that you post a picture of your dog and hope nobody notices."
Who's a good boy? Anyway, while suicide and teenagers certainly aren't mutually exclusive, even when you're talking about the ones who aren't fans of Robert Smith's snivelier offerings, it all seemed too much to be just coincidence, and Dr. Kenney's homeschooled hocus pocus was determined by some to be responsible. But let's quickly examine what exactly happened.
Dr. Kenney hypnotized 16-year-old Wesley McKinley to "help him do better with his guitar practice," and McKinley hanged himself the very same day.
Subsequent to Dr. Kenney having "informally diagnosed" 17-year-old Brittany Palumbo for anxiety and hypnotizing her for it, Palumbo also hanged herself.
To help 16-year-old Marcus Freeman (the school's star quarterback) play through pain during games, Dr. Kenney got hypnotically involved, teaching Freeman how to put himself into a trance. As Freeman's girlfriend reported, as they were driving home after one session of self-hypnosis, he basically played out a scene from The Happening: He "suddenly got a strange look on his face," veered off the interstate for no apparent reason whatsoever, and wound up in a collision that killed him.
So there were now several dead kids, none of whom had a reported history of depression, and the one link between them was this bearded weirdo who was "treating" them with some sideshow gimmick. This point of view isn't exactly without merit, considering that while hypnotism seems to be effective in some circumstances, it doesn't even have a standard scientific definition yet. Like the off-the-books gynecologist whom the Kardashians probably keep on staff to deal with the constant chafing infections, Dr. Kenney was no expert, and tinkering in the unknown.
"My true passion is cruise ship entertainment."
Was Dr. Kenney liable? The Sarasota County School Board seems to have made that conclusion, seeing as how they paid $600,000 in total settlement money to the relatives of the deceased. According to a lawyer for the grieving families, he "altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it." In the aftermath of the uproar, Dr. Kenney was placed on administrative leave, stripped of his teaching credentials, and ultimately charged with a criminal offense. Not murder, but "practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license."
But is this really fair? The Amazing Kreskin doesn't think so. When asked about the case recently, the famed mentalist didn't mince words: "Talk about a disgraceful abuse of scientific mumbo jumbo. There is the immense power of suggestion but hypnosis is B.S." Kreskin has a standing offer of $100,000 to anyone who can prove that hypnotic trances are an actual thing, by the way. He also made a pretty solid point:
"If it's possible to cause suicide through hypnosis, should I seriously consider going on satellite television with the attempt to attract viewers who are members of ISIS and then bring about mass suicide of our enemy? The question I suggest is who in the hell had the asinine, imbecilic, stupid, unscientific idea that this had to do with hypnosis?"
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
There are a lot of "amazing" things about Kreskin, but measured restraint apparently is not one of them.
OK, maybe. But hey, wait a minute, smart guy. If hypnotism doesn't work, how do you explain the fact that my grandpa went to a hypnotist one time, and now he's so stiff you can suspend him between two chairs without collapsing? Oh right, he's dead. Well, let's just agree that principals shouldn't be allowed to do anything with our kids that's considered filler on late night talk shows. Just in case.
E. Reid Ross also battles hordes of flying spiders over at Man Cave Daily. Feel free to follow him on Twitter here.