Authorities are investigating whether anonymous posts in an online forum pushed Virginia firefighter Nicole Mittendorff to suicide. In a thread for emergency workers on website Fairfax Underground in December, the 31-year-old was called derogatory names including "slut," Fairfax Fire Chief Richard Bowers tells the New York Daily News. After Mittendorff was found to have died from hanging in Shenandoah National Park, the hateful posts continued. The bullies haven't been identified, but some claimed to work at the Fairfax County Fire Department, where Mittendorff was employed for three years, reports WJLA. Bowers says his department "cannot and will not tolerate bullying of any kind" and will investigate. "If in fact there is anybody responsible for any piece of this, I will hold them accountable," he tells WUSA.
"I have and will continue to retain all IP addresses of Fairfax Underground posters indefinitely in case any court wishes to unmask the perpetrators of this abuse," a website moderator tells the Huffington Post. Other female firefighters and paramedics were judged on their attractiveness and accused of sleeping with their colleagues. The case "offers a chilling window into the persistent harassment women encounter on a daily basis online and at work," writes columnist Petula Dvorak at the Washington Post. "I am on the receiving end of the onslaught daily." While women are often told to ignore the bullying, "it matters, it hurts, it means something. And it has to stop," she adds. "I'd say, 'Ask Nicole Mittendorff how this feels.' But we can't." Authorities have yet to share the contents of a suicide note discovered in Mittendorff's vehicle.