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Female Firefighter Who Committed Suicide Was a Target for Cyberbullies

Nicole Mittendorff, a 31-year-old firefighter, took her own life earlier this month. In the wake of her death, an online trail of slurs and harassment has emerged from people claiming to be fellow firefighters.
Image via Firehouse

Six days after her husband reported her missing, police found the body of 31-year old firefighter Nicole Mittendorff in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia last Thursday.

But the tragedy has turned even darker, as local media in Virginia have started to report about an anonymous online gossip forum, Fairfax Underground, where anonymous commenters identifying themselves as firefighters were discussing Mittendorff back in December 2015. Users lambasted Mittendorff's reputation as a wife and firefighter, often using sexual slurs and insults when referring to her.


The online conversation has continued after her death, with some users on the forum claiming that the December posts constituted cyberbullying and may have contributed to Mittendorff's suicide. It's speculation, of course, and there's no way to verify if these are indeed other firefighters posting about Mittendorff. However, the content of the posts is clear: They easily qualify as cruel bullying and sexual harassment. After Mittendorff's death, one user posted a revealing picture of a woman in a bikini, claiming that it was her. (Broadly has confirmed that it is not.)

Willie Bailey, Fairfax County Fire Department battalion chief and spokesperson, told Broadly that while he'd heard of the website in question, it's not, to his knowledge, a forum that firefighters use to chat online. A 25-year veteran of the department, he said he hadn't looked at the site for years. "To me, it's a site for negativity," he says. He added that there is no way to prove that anyone on the site is an actual Fairfax County firefighter.

"The main thing we're worried about now is providing support to the family, [and giving] her a good homecoming on Thursday," at the funeral, he said.

Bailey also confirmed that the fire department is opening its own investigation into the online harassment, led by the fire chief.

"I would like to take a minute to address the local web forum posts that so many of you have been discussing regarding Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff," Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers wrote in a statement. "We at Fairfax Fire and Rescue are aware of the posts and are looking into the matter. I assure you that my department cannot and will not tolerate bullying of any kind. We will thoroughly investigate this matter and take any appropriate actions needed. However, right now we ask that we be allowed to grieve the loss of one of our own."


Mittendorff's body was found "in a remote location more than a mile from the White Oak Canyon parking area," where her car had been abandoned days before, according to the Virginia State Police. She was "about 330 yards from the trail in treacherous rocky terrain," police said.

Mittendorff joined the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in 2013, working as a firefighter–paramedic.

After she went missing, her family set up a Facebook page to help in the search. They have since changed it to a memorial page, where thousands have posted support and condolences.

"Our hearts are broken," the family writes. They've added personal photos of Mittendorff: opening Christmas presents with her husband, standing in uniform, smiling next to a fire engine. They've asked that in lieu of flowers, people donate to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and to an animal charity Mittendorff loved.

Virginia State Police tell Broadly that they are not looking into the blog posts or cyberbullying as a contributing factor in Mittendorff's suicide. "At this time we don't have any evidence to indicate that blog posts had anything to do with her motivations, (or) that it was a motive in her death," says police spokesperson Corinne Geller.

Police found a suicide note in Mittendorff's car, and they tell Broadly they don't suspect any foul play. They are not making the note public or revealing the cause of death at this time.