Texas police officers rescue suicidal teen from highway bridge
A teen who apparently was thinking of jumping off a bridge over U.S. 287 in Mansfield was rescued in late February by officers at the last minute.
In Arlington, an officer and a truck driver saved the life of another teen after he jumped off a bridge in March.
But on March 23, a South Hills High School sophomore died after she jumped from a Fort Worth overpass.
Just days later, an O.D. Wyatt High School senior jumped to his death in Forest Hill.
Statistics and recent studies show alarming trends in the number of children and teens attempting suicide or thinking about suicide.
Nearly one in eight Texas high school students attempted suicide in 2017 — 12.3 percent compared to the national average of 7.4 percent, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The attempted suicide rate for Fort Worth students was 10.6 percent. The statistics are from the Texas High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2017. The question asked students if they had attempted suicide one or more times in the 12 months prior to the survey. The percentage of Texas students who said they had increased from 8.4 in 2007.
The number of teens and children who visited U.S. emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts doubled from 2007 to 2015, according to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Statistics from 300 emergency rooms across the country showed diagnoses of either condition increased from 580,000 to 1.1 million in 2015, according to the report.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 18, a problem that persists into early adulthood, the study says.
‘I didn’t understand why’
In recent years, some of the young people who have committed suicide in Tarrant County have been sensitive, bright and artistic students, said Julie Compton of Fort Worth, a LOSS volunteer. LOSS is Local Outreach for Suicide Survivors.
Compton’s 21-year-old son killed himself in 2010 at the family’s Fort Worth home.
For more than 30 years, Compton has worked with at-risk kids in Tarrant County.
“My son did not come from a broken home,” Compton said. “He had parents and we were active in church. I didn’t understand why it happened.”
The risk of suicide is higher for people who have experienced violence or other traumatic events, including bullying, child abuse, or sexual violence, according to the CDC. A lack of problem-solving skills or ability to cope with stress also is associated with suicide.
Here are some factors provided by local mental health experts that could lead students in high school or middle school to consider suicide:
▪ Bullying and cyberbullying
▪ Social media
▪ Poor academic performance in school
▪ Body image issues
▪ Not fitting in
▪ No one to talk to
▪ Not enough friends
▪ Lack of motivation and encouragement
▪ Problems with parents
▪ Drugs and alcohol
▪ Peer pressure
▪ Pressure to keep good grades
▪ Traumatic events/life experiences
▪ Lack of family/social support at home and/or school setting
▪ Previous mental-health issues such as anxiety, stress, depression
In Tarrant County, total suicides, including adults and children, have risen from 222 in 2013 to 267 in 2017, according to the county medical examiner’s office.
Of the 267 suicides reported in 2017, 11 were children or teens and the deaths occurred in their homes. The youngest victims were 12 years old, according to the medical examiner’s statistics.
In 2016, seven children or teens killed themselves. Since 2012, the highest number of suicides among teens and children was 14 in 2014, according to Tarrant County statistics.
Talk to your kids
“Suicide is an important issue and we encourage people to talk about it,” said Vorice Perryman, manager of the LOSS Team for Tarrant County, a partnership of My Health My Resource (MHMR) of Tarrant County and Mental Health America of Greater Tarrant County
Parents should talk to their children if they notice warning signs and seek help, experts say. Behaviors and signs to watch for include feelings of hopelessness, isolation, loss of appetite and loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
“When in doubt, ask the question, ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’” Perryman said.
Rachel Blackmon of Fort Worth said she has heard students as young as middle-school age talk about suicide at her son’s school.
Blackmon’s father killed himself in 2015. She’s a board member with Mental Health America of Greater Tarrant County.
“I think it’s important to just remember that everybody is different,” Blackmon said. “But ultimately we all want the same thing — we want to know that we’re loved and supported. We want to feel listened to.”
Blackmon said believing in a child, and helping them believe in themselves when they are struggling, is the most important thing.
“Don’t be so quick to judge or be afraid of a difficult emotion. For anyone who is suffering with suicidal thoughts or from losing someone to suicide (the message) is that they’re not alone and it’s all OK. Every thought, every fear, every worry has been experienced,” Blackmon said. “We are all more resilient than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.”
Saving a life
Many times in a year, area police and firefighters must face someone who is thinking about committing suicide. They don’t always make it in time, but as a couple of examples this year show, they can save lives.
In February, three Mansfield police officers rescued a teen who was about to jump off a bridge over U.S. 287.
Mansfield police released body camera videos from the officers showing the rescue.
The officers responded to a call around 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 26 about someone sitting on the ledge of a bridge on Lone Star Road.
When they arrived, they found a 19-year-old sitting on a concrete wall facing the lanes of traffic.
Mansfield Officer Bryan Rogers, a member of the department since February 2017 and a 15-year police veteran, began talking to the teen.
As Rogers spoke to the young man, Kalif Jefferson and Max Gaona worked their way from behind to grab him and pull him off the wall.
In Arlington, Officer Deric Sheriff directed a truck under an overpass just moments before a teen jumped.
Sheriff was in the area working a traffic stop on I-20 when he heard the call about a teen contemplating suicide on the Kelly Elliot Bridge, KDFW reported. While Sheriff and another officer were stopping traffic, Sheriff said he was looking for a big-rig that could help lessen the fall, according to the station.
A trucker agreed, and the teen landed on the 13-foot-tall trailer.
Courtney Runnels, the mental health coordinator with the Grand Prairie Police Department, said police officers face some type of mental health calls every day.
“These calls have an impact on officers,” said Runnels, who joined the department in June 2018. The mental health coordinator helps officers on mental health calls with residents and provides support for officers “The calls are probably 50-50 between children and adults.”