“Tragic.” That’s what loved ones of Alexander Kearns are calling his suicide.
Kearns left a suicide note for his family, which asked a question.
“How was a 20-year-old with no income able to get assigned almost a million dollars worth of leverage?” the letter read.
His family, however, says Kearns was not actually in debt.
“[I believe] when he signed on, his perception of the truth was that he owed $730,000, and the reason he misinterpreted what was going is because how the interface shows the number,” said Bill Brewster, Kearns’ cousin-in-law, referring to the the cash balance on Kearns’ account.
In his suicide letter, Kearns left behind a screenshot of his Robinhood account. It showed a negative “cash” amount of $730,165.72; but in reality, he had over $16,000 earned, according to Brewster.
“In his mind the way to save his family was to kill himself, and that is such flawed logic but at the end of the day he wasn’t thinking clearly,” said Brewster. “He was trying to save his family from the debt he thought he racked up and he didn’t even incur it. It gets no more tragic.”
Kearns had recently taken up an interest in stocks, and like many other young adults, signed up with Robinhood. Like other brokerage firm apps, Robinhood appeals to the younger demographic by offering incentives like the ability to make unlimited free trades in stocks, as well as the option to buy and sell cryptocurrencies.
Kearns asked Brewster, who has a professional background in finance, some questions about the stock market. Brewster said Kearns was smart and responsible with money.
“[He was] a 20-year-old kid that saved $16,000. That should be commended,” said Brewster. “If that is invested and harvested properly down the road, that’s real money. He was the type of kid that if I ask him ‘hey do you want a milkshake with your cheeseburger’ he would say ‘no. I don’t need to spend that money’. And I would have to nudge him to be like ‘Alex you’re good man. I’ll get you your milkshake.”
Brewster questions Robinhood’s user interface, which he says could be misinterpreted by some.
“I would’ve been mad if he had the debt because my question would’ve been ‘how do you give a kid this much debt,’” said Brewster. “To find out it is just the way that it is [(cash balance)] shown is completely devastating. I think parents need to know and kids need to know. And I think if you’re putting those numbers in front of people and your retail focus trading platform encourages trading, it is irresponsible to show numbers like that to people in their home screens as their cash balance.”
A spokesperson for Robinhood reached out to the Kearns family and said the following.
“All of us at Robinhood are deeply saddened to hear this terrible news and we reached out to share our condolences with the family over the weekend. We will not share any details regarding the account to respect privacy and confidentiality. We are committed to continuously improving our platform and are reviewing our options offering to determine if any changes may be appropriate.”
Brewster is hoping for more than just condolences and hopes Robinhood changes its user interface. He implores anyone who may have financial troubles to seek help.
“Bankruptcy is an option, especially if you’re young,” said Brewster. “Something like a trading account debt balance you can file. There is a way back. The way back is try to keep your head up, cut your expenses, and go at it one step at a time slowly. Nothing is worth losing your life over and the pain that it has left behind. The permanence of the decision, I can’t even put it into words. I just hope no one has to experience it. And to the people who are thinking about it, I hope that they know that people love them.”
Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal reports.
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