ROME—What started out as a silly dare among adolescent boys ended in unthinkable tragedy. In the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, three 13-year-olds walking home from school along the train tracks this week dared each other to stay still as long as they could to take the perfect selfie while a speeding locomotive barreling up behind them. Two of the boys jumped to safety in time, but a third waited too long and, despite the train engineer’s desperate attempt to screech to a stop, was catapulted in the air to his death. The surviving boys ran away, to be found later in shock and tears as they recounted to investigators the tales of their deadly dare.
The Italian death is hardly the first time someone has died for the perfect picture. According to a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University late last year, at least 127 people have been killed taking selfies since 2014. The study’s authors define the deaths, known as killfies, as the “death of an individual or a group of people that could have been avoided had the individual(s) not been taking a selfie.” The study found that the majority of recent selfie deaths have taken place in India, Pakistan, and the United States. More than 75 percent of those killed taking selfies are men, most often under the age of 24.
Carnegie Mellon identified eight types of selfie deaths. The most prevalent way to die for a photo is height related, falling from buildings or mountains, whereas most group selfie deaths happen in water-related accidents. Combining height and water is also a deadly combination for many, accounting for the third most common way people die taking selfies.
Last month, three women in their twenties watched a fourth friend get swept away to her death as they were taking a group selfie on a fast-flowing river in New Zealand.
Another common selfie cause of death for individuals—and couples!— involves trains in stunts like the one that killed the young Italian boy. “We found that taking selfies on train tracks is a trend,” the authors of the study write. “This trend caters to the belief that posting on or next to train tracks with their best friend is regarded as romantic and a sign of never-ending friendship.”
Other train-related selfie deaths include factors like electricity. Last week a 19-year-old university student named Mohammad Ayyub was electrocuted in New Dehli while trying to take a selfie on a parked train. As he stood up after taking his fateful photo, he came into contact with live wires that killed him instantly.
Vehicles are also among the most common categories in selfie deaths, mostly when people take selfies while driving. Not surprisingly, weapons often are involved, especially in the United States and Russia, according to the study.
In Washington state last year, a 43-year-old man died during a selfie session with his pistol which, according to his girlfriend, he apparently did not know was loaded when he pulled the trigger while snapping the fatal photo.
Animal related selfie deaths are relatively rare, but they do happen. In February, Moses Ndlovu from Zimbabwe died after he was trampled by the very elephants he was trying to take a selfie in front of at a popular game park. Weeks earlier, a woman was attacked by a lion she was trying to pose in front of in the same game park.
For all the selfie deaths recorded, there are countless other near misses. In February, an 18-year-old Israeli tourist was arrested in New York City after climbing the Brooklyn Bridge to get the perfect shot.
The most popular place to display death-defying (or not) selfies is on Instagram, where people post under the hashtags #ssgkilleverygram #chasingrooftops and #extreme. Some of the most daring are photos taken by Ivan and Angela, a couple whose extreme selfies posted on Instagram as @_elevation are dizzying just to look at. They even have a YouTube channel showing behind-the-scenes shots of their stunts.
Death by selfie may seem like an extremely careless way to go. But for all those daredevils who survive their near-misses, the attention in the number of likes, shares and retweets keeps them snapping. Until, of course, they take that final photo—the one to die for.