According to the New York Times Mr. Swartz hung himself and was discovered by his girlfriend.
Mr. Swartz suffered from depression and was facing a federal trial next month for hacking and fraud charges stemming from illegal access to “JSTOR, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals, and downloading 4.8 million articles and documents, nearly the entire library.”
Fellow activist and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow penned a powerful and beautifully stated obituary to his friend remembering Aaron’s achievements while reminding those who struggle with depression to get help.
“I'm still digesting it - I suspect I'll be digesting it for a long time - but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we could talk about it. Aaron was a public guy.
“Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.
"The post-Reddit era in Aaron's life was really his coming of age. His stunts were breathtaking. At one point, he singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER, the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, charged a fee for each such access. “After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to put any case law they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortune fetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain.
“He also founded a group called DemandProgress, which used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress's work was one of the decisive factors in last year's victory over SOPA/PIPA, and that was only the start of his ambition.
“Aaron's recklessness put him right in harm's way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on.
“A lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so. Imprisonment is one of my most visceral terrors, and it's at least credible that fear of losing his liberty, of being subjected to violence (and perhaps sexual violence) in prison, was what drove Aaron to take this step.
“But Aaron was also a person who'd had problems with depression for many years. He'd written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends.
Doctorow continued, “I don't know if it's productive to speculate about that, but here's a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you'll think about, too. I don't know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don't know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.
“Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.
“Depression strikes so many of us. I've struggled with it, been so low I couldn't see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan - all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there's life, there's hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot.
“I'm so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron. My sincere condolences to his parents, whom I never met, but who loved their brilliant, magnificently weird son and made sure he always had chaperonage when he went abroad on his adventures. My condolences to his friends, especially Quinn and Lisa, and the ones I know and the ones I don't, and to his comrades at DemandProgress. To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.