Note: The following post mentions details of how individuals have attempted or completed suicide. If you are at risk please stop here and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
My husband was the first to spot the sheet-covered form lying just off the highway on the grassy verge.
We were traveling east on Highway 96 following a trip to Memphis. It might have been a year or two ago. I don’t really remember.
I was slow to register what we were seeing. Tim knew before I did.
“Someone jumped,” he said.
The crumpled white sheet lay in the shadow of the massive arches that form the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge.
A person is lying under that sheet, I thought. Someone’s child. Or husband. Or mother.
Whoever the person was, it appeared that he or she had taken care not to jump directly over the highway, which could have seriously endangered those driving below.
A couple of men, official looking but not in uniform, were standing nearby. There wasn’t an ambulance—or at least not yet—or any uniformed police around that we could see.
Perhaps it was callous of us not to stop, but before my husband could react we’d already passed the bridge and the scene, which, by the time I looked back, were disappearing rapidly through the rear window.
The person’s loved ones probably don’t even know yet, I thought. They’re innocently going about their day-to-day lives, unaware of the fact that within an hour—or possibly even less—their hearts will be breaking.
Not surprisingly, my husband and I were left feeling slightly traumatized by the incident, especially given the fact that in August, 2010 our older son took his life, although not by jumping from a bridge.
Why did I have to see this? I remember thinking selfishly only moments after passing the scene. Of the more than thirty-two suicides that have taken place on the bridge since the year 2000 why did my husband and I happen to pass by at exactly the moment we did?
I was in the process of writing a post about a suicide attempt this past summer on the Natchez Trace Bridge when I heard about another, much more recent attempt, which took place on November 18. And then, almost unbelievably, only thirty-six hours later, it happened again. Only this time the jumper didn’t call for help. Instead, he jumped.
So far this year, according to the National Park Service, four people have died by suicide at the bridge. The four deaths bring the total to thirty-six who’ve died since 2000, which was the year the suicides first started at the twenty-five-year-old bridge.
Just last week, on the day before Thanksgiving, there was another attempt, this time on a different—much less famous bridge—in nearby Wayne County. Law enforcement officials say that the holidays are definitely a factor in the increased number of calls they receive around this time of year for completed suicides, as well as attempts, by whatever means.
Fortunately, after almost two hours of negotiations, sheriff’s deputies and Tennessee Highway Patrol officers managed to prevent the man from jumping.
The incident in Wayne County, as well as the November 18 one on the Natchez Trace Bridge, were captured on the body cams worn by the officers involved. Posted online, as well as shown on the evening news, the footage is unsettling, to say the least. In the Wayne County incident, a man is seen standing shirtless in broad daylight atop the bridge over Forty Eight Creek, as it’s called. He sways slightly before being tackled around the legs by an officer who pushes him backwards to safety.
In the November 18 incident on the Natchez Trace Bridge, the scene is frighteningly eerie, taking place as it does in the murky, pre-dawn darkness. The bridge’s treacherously low railings slowly come into view as a sheriff’s deputy pulls up in his vehicle. He gets out and, speaking reassuringly, manages to coax a young man back over the railing and away from certain death.
The footage is chilling in that it illustrates with disturbing clarity just how fragile the thread often is between an attempted suicide and a completed one.
A barrier for the bridge is supposed to be coming in 2023. Clearly, it won’t be a moment too soon.