Port Authority via AP
The George Washington Bridge
A suicidal teenager who posted on Facebook that he was considering jumping off the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey was intercepted after cops reached out to him via social media — and he reached back.
The 18-year-old, whose identity has not been released, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon: “I am thinking about jumping” and attached photos of the famed bridge that spans the Hudson River between Fort Lee, N.J., and Manhattan.
A concerned Facebook user who saw the post contacted local New Jersey police, who then called the Port Authority Police Department, which has authority over the bridge. Lt. Thomas Michaels, a veteran cop on duty, took the call and, along with Sgt. Nadine Rhem, found the teen's online page and reached out with a plea to call their precinct, a Port Authority spokesman said.
Rhem, meanwhile, electronically distributed his Facebook photos to officers patrolling the bridge.
Two hours after Michaels' initial attempt to make contact, the lieutenant had just briefed his captain on the situation when the phone rang. "I picked up and heard it was him and I almost fell out of my chair," he told NBC News.
The teenager, riding on a public bus nearby, had accepted Michaels' offer of assistance. After speaking for about 10 minutes — "It was clear the kid was in a bad way," Michaels said — they arranged to have local police meet the bus at the next stop, where the teen then volunteered to be taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
“This is the first time there was an interchange between one of our officers and a suicidal individual on social media,” Port Authority spokesman Joe Pentangelo said. “It is a huge success.”
Michaels said he and his colleagues have used social networks to verify threats and gather background information in the past, "but we've never used it to reach out and touch the person.
Port Authority of NY & NJ
Lt.Thomas Michaels and Sgt. Nadine Rhem of the Port Authority Police Department.
"And on the first shot, it worked," he said.
The Port Authority has been using innovative techniques to attempt to deter jumpers in the wake of several high-profile suicides on the bridge in recent years, including that of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who leaped to his death in 2010 after being surreptitiously videotaped by his roommate.
The bridge had a record 43 suicide attempts in 2012, 18 of them fatal, according to a report in the New York Post.
First published November 14 2013, 7:55 AM