ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Their torment was just so inconvenient.
Or so some of you thought.
Travel was disrupted twice for hundreds of motorists in the space of three days when large swaths of both interstates that crisscross Albuquerque were shut down after two suicidal individuals threatened to jump from overpasses – one incident lasting more than 13 hours, the other just a few minutes.
That second, shorter one ended horrifically for a 16-year-old boy.
The first incident began before noon Sunday when a man in a leather jacket and athletic shoes crawled around the chain-link barriers of the Louisiana overpass that crosses Interstate 40 in the city, balanced himself on a narrow slip of concrete and threatened to jump.
He had stopped taking his medication, Albuquerque police learned, and the demons the drugs helped keep at bay were swarming. He babbled about being framed for murder, about how some evil illusory force had implanted a microphone in his neck.
Police shut down the eastbound freeway lanes, concerned that should the man fulfill his suicidal threat he might not just take out himself but a passing motorist or two below.
Officers trained in crisis intervention techniques attempted to reach him with a firetruck cherry picker, offered him pizza and water, and cut a hole in the fence so he could crawl through. They kept talking to him, kept searching for the words that might persuade him to live and leave his precarious spot about 16 feet above the roadway.
Whether it was their words or the man’s weariness, he finally crawled back to safety around 1 a.m. Monday – more than 13 hours later, an unprecedented but necessary amount of time, they said, to save a life.
But, yeah, about that freeway closure.
Apparently, some of you weren’t happy about that. How selfish, some of you said, for one person’s crisis to outweigh others’ convenience.
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one,” wrote one man who uses the moniker Bowling for Leftists on social media. “Just shoot ’em (or otherwise force them to jump) and then take another 15 minutes or so to scrape the carcass off the pavement. Easy peasy.”
Bowling grumbled on: “And if you seriously want to kill yourself, and not just draw attention and ruin the lives of thousands of productive citizens on a busy weekend travel day, then just (expletive) do it in private so the rest of us can move on with our lives!”
How what happened Sunday “ruined” the life of any inconvenienced motorist is a head-scratcher, but certainly Bowling’s cold outrage was not an isolated reaction.
Others complained about what they termed the man’s ridiculous need for attention and the Police Department’s inability to quickly square away the situation. Get a police dog to nip the guy in the groin, one man said. Tranquilize or Taze him and let him fall into a net, another said. Install concertina wire on overpass barriers, another suggested.
Others said simply to let the man do what he came to do, and quickly.
Officers at the scene reported that some passing motorists shouted at the man to kill himself.
“I saw a dad with his kids in the car do it,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an APD spokesman. “It was totally revolting.”
Where is our humanity, folks? Is convenience really more important than compassion?
Suicide is an impulsive act, a helpless, hopeless sinking into darkness and despair. Rarely is it grandstanding or attention-seeking or a deliberate attempt to “ruin” someone else’s life.
Those who viciously chided the man to end his life have likely never dealt with the anguish of suicide or known someone who has.
But statistics show that one day they just might. A suicide occurs somewhere in the country every 29 minutes. And it is worse in New Mexico than nearly every other state. According to the state Department of Health, New Mexico’s suicide death rate is at least 50 percent higher than national rates over the past 20 years.
Typically, though, we are not made to be an audience. Nearly 52 percent of all suicides in New Mexico are carried out with a firearm, according to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. Most of those occur at home.
Far fewer choose jumping from a high place to end their lives – an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of all suicides nationally. A search of recent suicide attempts from overpasses and bridges across the country show they were stopped by shutting down traffic while trained crisis intervention teams worked to talk the person off the ledge, just as Albuquerque police do.
No one has figured out a better way.
That, apparently, is not good enough for some of you. Perhaps, as one friend suggests, being isolated in our vehicles has given us the illusion that we are separated from the lives of everyone around us. We travel in our isolated bubbles, where it is so easy to lose our humanity, our compassion for others.
As I wrote this, that second jumper, a shirtless 16-year-old boy, climbed outside the protective barriers of the freeway overpass at Candelaria over northbound Interstate 25. It happened around noon Tuesday.
Once again, Albuquerque police shut down that portion of the freeway and began talking with him. But time and talk ran out. Moments later, he jumped. As of Tuesday night, he is hospitalized with what an Albuquerque police spokesman termed an “irrecoverable brain injury.”
I wonder how inconvenienced folks felt about that. Frankly, I’m afraid to ask.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.