• Family of University of Nebraska student Alexander Kearns said he had gotten into stock trading while home during the coronavirus pandemic through the free trading app Robinhood
  • Kearns' uncle, a financial analyst, said his nephew became distraught after seeing his balance on the app was more than $730,000 in the hole
  • Kearns' uncle said he believed the balance may have been the result of glitch in the app and asked Robinhood to address any possible problems before something similar happens again

The family of a University of Nebraska college student said Alexander Kearns committed suicide after losing thousands of dollars on a free trading app, but the information may have been inaccurate.

Bill Brewster told WGN-TV, Chicago, his 20-year-old nephew had taken up stock trading while home during the coronavirus pandemic, using the free app Robinhood, which offers commission-free trading, and continued to do so with no apparent problems for nearly a month. However, he said when his nephew opened the app on June 11, it showed his account had a negative balance of more than $730,000.

He said seeing this prompted Kearns to screenshot the balance, write a suicide note and leave his family’s home in Naperville, Illinois.

“He thought he was exposed. He thought that ending his life would protect his family from the exposure,” Brewster said. “He got on his bike and never came home.”

Kearns’ father, Daniel, found the suicide note on his son’s laptop after seeing a sticky note on the door of Kearns’ room. Brewster said the note began: “If you’re reading this, then I am dead.”

Kearns’ body was found on Friday near railway tracks running through Naperville. The coroner’s office said he was struck by a passing train.

Brewster, himself a financial analyst, said his nephew killed himself over a possible glitch with Robinhood’s app.

“It’s actually a user interface issue and when Alex opened his app, he saw his cash balance was $730,000 and when you look at the screenshot, he had $16,000 in his account which was his true saving,” Brewster said, calling on Robinhood to address any issues with the app to prevent any future incidents.

Robinhood offered condolences.

“All of us at Robinhood are deeply saddened to hear this terrible news and we reached out to share our condolences with the family. We will not share any details regarding the account to respect privacy and confidentiality,” Robinhood’s statement said.

The New York Stock Exchange trading floor on March 19, 2020, a few days before its closure
The New York Stock Exchange trading floor on March 19, 2020, a few days before its closure AFP / Johannes EISELE