The Bridge of Death


"Because suicide is not inevitable, it's preventable. It's so not appealing. It's the worst thing that someone can do obviously to themselves and their loved ones," she said.

A Secret Project

When Steel got the permits necessary to set up cameras and tape the bridge for a year, he didn't say why he was doing it. And when he interviewed the family members of suicide victims, he didn't tell them in advance that he had captured the suicides on tape.

When asked why he declined to notify anyone about the purpose of his filming, he cited a concern that people would come to the bridge to commit suicide to be in the film.

He had the same reasoning for not informing friends and family of the victims of his filming.

"All the family members now, at this point, have seen the film," Steel said. "Every one of them was glad that they had participated in it. So in the end, I think, you know, I made the right choice."

In his follow-ups with friends and family, Gould doesn't believe that Steel did enough to talk about the reasons behind suicide.

"I would have liked to have seen him go the next step of talking about the real causes, and then the solutions," she said. "We needed to have that next step so that people walk away thinking, 'I can do something. I'm empowered. This is horrible. I don't want this to happen to anybody, and I know that it doesn't have to happen to everybody.'"

Finding a Solution in a Barrier

For decades, cost and aesthetics have been cited as two of the reasons why an effective suicide barrier has never been built on the Golden Gate Bridge. The authority that manages the bridge relies on trained personnel to keep watch.

"So far this year, we've talked back 65 percent of all of the suicide candidates that have arrived here at the bridge to do some sort of harm to themselves," Kupersmith said.

"We do that by training not only what you might consider your typical first responders, meaning your police officers, but we also train our ironworkers, our painters, our service operators -- literally anyone whose job requires them to be out on the Golden Gate Bridge on a regular basis," she said.

While Sprague's story illustrates what happens when it's not apparent that someone is on the verge of suicide, other dilemmas surface when a bystander is certain that suicide is the intent of someone nearby, raising the question of intervention.

Steel said all the people working on his project called the bridge authority immediately if they thought there was a chance that someone would jump.

They also saw -- in the midst of motorists and bicyclists and pedestrians who often passed by unaware -- one instance in which a tourist named Richard Waters and an apparently troubled young woman happened to arrive at the same place at the same time.

"I realized that this girl was about to jump," Steel said. "But when I was behind the camera it was almost like it wasn't real because I was looking through the lens."

Over several minutes, the uncertainty that Waters felt disappeared. And he became a participant in a scene that had somehow seemed unreal through his camera.

Steel watched as Waters realized what the girl was doing, and reached over the rail and pulled her back.

"She started to bite me a little bit," Waters remembered. "So I just sat on her chest and just called 911."

It was the only time all year that Steel had observed such an act, and had there been a suicide barrier, the scene might never have occurred.

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