Meet The "Guardian of The Golden Gate Bridge" Who Saved More Than 200 From Jumping
You never know what another person is struggling with or how much they are struggling. Unless you walk in another person's shoes, you can't judge. Some people are so low and struggling that they feel like life is no longer worth living. Sergeant Kevin Briggs was assigned to traffic control on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. He thought he would just be helping people during traffic incidents, but he ended up becoming known as the "Guardian of The Golden Gate Bridge."
In 1994, Kevin Briggs Began Patrolling The Golden Gate Bridge
Kevin Briggs began patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge in 1994 and worked as a California Highway Patrol officer for twenty-three years. However, his job ended up being nothing like he expected it to be. He was trained to handle traffic incidents but was never trained on how to deal with people contemplating suicide.
"There were four to six cases of suicidal folks on the bridge each and every month. And I had no idea about this, and I grew up in Marin County, which connects to San Francisco via the Golden Gate bridge. I had no training to handle these types of situations." ------ Kevin Briggs.
Sergeant Kevin Briggs, The 'Guardian Of The Golden Gate Bridge"
During Kevin Briggs' twenty-three years of service, he saved more than two hundred people. He saved people from jumping to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge. That is how he ended up with the name of the "Golden Gate Guardian."
However, Briggs was unable to save two of the people that he encountered on the bridge. He was unable to stop them from jumping to their deaths, and those deaths stayed with him.
Since Its Opening In 1937, Thousands Have Jumped From The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, and since then, nearly sixteen hundred people have jumped to their deaths at the Golden Gate Bridge. When Briggs was given his assignment on the bridge, he had no idea that the famous bridge was an infamous suicide spot.
It is estimated that roughly thirty or more people end their lives on the bridge every year. There are most likely more suicides than what has been recorded, as it is assumed that some jumpers were swept out to sea and never found.
Kevin Briggs and Kevin Berthia met on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2005 when Berthia was planning to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge. Briggs stated, "He was very, very, very angry. And he wanted nothing to do with me. And he kept yelling at me, 'Stay back! Stay back; if you come one step further, I'm jumping!'
And he was very serious about this. In my mind, if I took one step further, then he was gone." The two men talked for ninety minutes about Berthia's problems, but mostly, Berthia talked, and Briggs listened. Thankfully, Berthia came back over the railing and chose not to jump.
Briggs' First Encounter With A Suicidal Person
Kevin Briggs' first encounter with a suicidal person was with a woman. Briggs stated that he had no training before he went out there. But it didn't take him long to realize that desperate, suicidal people would flock to the bridge so that they could end their pain and suffering.
"I did about everything wrong that you could. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, 'Am I responsible if she does jump? What happens here? I had no training in this. This is a really bad scene.' I was afraid; I didn't know how to handle that situation." ------Kevin Briggs.
"Yeah, It Is Tough"
Briggs stated that survivors told him that one thing that didn't go over well was "I understand." That makes people angry because they know that you don't actually understand unless you have been in their shoes.
What he learned was that what they want to hear is, "Yeah, it is tough," He said that he would explain to them that it sounds really tough, and he would try to normalize their situation. They need to know someone is listening and actually cares.
Important To Listen And Try To Understand
Kevin would start out by saying, "'I'm Kevin with the Highway Patrol, is it okay, is it alright if I come up and speak with you for a bit?' I want to get their permission and empower them. I also want to be below them if I can. I want their eyes looking down at me.
It's part of that empowerment that I want to do." He stated that once he would speak to the person, he would ask how they were feeling or if they had plans for tomorrow. He said if they didn't have plans, he would help them make plans.
Kevin And Officer Briggs Are Now Friends
Kevin Briggs saved Kevin Berthia's life years ago, and now the two men are friends. They met up at the bridge ten years after the incident and have been friends ever since. Berthia also helps others with mental health battles.
Berthia stated that they have a unique friendship because he knows he can one hundred percent trust Briggs and knows that he will never judge him. Berthia now has four children and runs his own organization.
The Golden Gate Bridge Is An Iconic Landmark
The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans one mile wild. It is an iconic bridge that was designed by Joseph Strauss in 1917. In addition to vehicles; it also carries pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
It has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and is one of the most recognized symbols of San Francisco and California.
Pivotal Points Organization
Kevin Briggs is an International Crisis Management, Suicide Prevention, and Leadership Skills presenter. He dedicates his life to promoting mental health awareness across the globe through the Pivotal Points Organization.
He founded the organization to bring awareness to mental health and what to do with someone who is suicidal. He wants to teach what he has learned to other people who can also help save lives as he did on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Guardian Of The Golden Gate: Protecting The Line Between Hope And Despair
The book Guardian Of The Golden Gate: Protecting The Line Between Hope And Despair was released in 2015 and is written by Kevin Briggs. He is an advocate for suicide awareness and prevention, and the book is all about his time working on the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Kevin's experience shines a bright light on a topic we have long sought to bring out of the dark. This book highlights the practical tools and skills that helped give hundreds of people a tomorrow, sharing the immense power of connections and, most importantly, that suicide can be prevented." -------Linda Rosenberg.
The Bridge Is 746 Feet Above The Water Of San Francisco Bay
The Golden Gate Bridge is seven hundred and forty-six feet above the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay. The water below the bridge is three hundred and seventy-seven feet deep, and there are dangerous currents that can wash you out to sea.
There are also sharks and other dangerous animals in the Bay. In addition, the temperature of the water in the Bay is a chilly sixty degrees, and the deeper the water, the colder the temperature is.
On September 20, 2013, Kyle Gamboa, just eighteen years old, signed into his computer, searching for the Golden Gate Bridge. He then drove to the bridge, climbed over the rail, and jumped to his death. Kyle's mother has been advocating for a barrier on the bridge ever since her son's death.
She told the board, "We do believe if a suicide barrier had been in place, our son would still be with us today and be getting the treatment that he needed so he could live a vibrant life." ----- Kimberlyrenee Gamboa.
Officials Approve Steel Net On Golden Gate Bridge
Engineers in California designed a steel web underneath the state's biggest tourist attraction. The crew worked double shifts day and night to complete the Golden Gate Suicide Deterrent Net System. They began the project in 2018 and it is said to be completed by 2023.
They believe the net will prevent deaths, but for those that still jump, it will be a painful experience. You will probably break a bone or two and get bruised pretty badly, but you will live.
The Golden Gate Bridge Is The Most Used Suicide Site In The World
There have been more than sixteen hundred fatalities linked to the Golden Gate Bridge in California. The bridge is responsible for more suicides than any other bridge in the world. Families of the victims have long lobbied and argued that officials have not hastened to make lifesaving modifications to the bridge.
"The Golden Gate Bridge is more than just a structure, it's an icon, and it is romanticized and glorified. I believe that when people set their sights on it, it's the bridge or nothing. And if they can't commit suicide from the bridge, then they won't." ------ Manuel Gamboa III.
Kevin Berthia Foundation
Kevin Berthia is a sought-after public speaker and founded the Kevin Berthia Foundation. The foundation gives those individuals that suffer in silence with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health conditions a voice of hope.
Kevin's story has touched audiences all around the world. In addition, he has shared his story with many magazine outlets along with local and national news stations.
The Nonprofit Bridge Rail Foundation
The Bridge Rail Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was created to end suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, and it now helps others in communities with public suicide sites.
The organization's website offers information on their work, successes, challenges, and what they've learned. They have gained unique expertise in the education and advocacy needed to prevent suicides in public structures.
Kevin Hines wanted just one person to walk up to him and reach out, but when a woman walked up and asked him to take a picture, he decided to jump. He stated it was a split-second decision, thinking that nobody cared.
He threw himself over the bridge and said it took just seconds to hit the water. He said he remembers his few fleeting thoughts and a flood of emotion and how he instantly regretted his decision.
Officer Marcus Butler
Kevin Hines was pulled from the water by Officer Marcus Butler and the Coast Guard crew. Butler stated that he still has nightmares about pulling bodies from the water.
He stated how when people jump, they don't just hit the water and go peacefully into the night, that sometimes their "bodies are things you'd see on a horror show." He served in the U.S. Coast Guard for four years, and in those years, he pulled fifty-seven bodies from the water, with one of them being alive.
Something In The Water
Kevin believes that he had some help surviving from something in the water. "I couldn't breathe, and I kept going down further, and then I'd have to swim back up, spit out salt water, go back down, spit out salt water, go back down. I couldn't even yell. I tried to scream, but my lungs were impacted. I couldn't do it. Something began circling beneath me, and I mean something very large, very slimy, and very alive.
And I'm freaking out, and I'm thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me, I didn't die jumping off that stupid bridge, and a shark is going to eat me?'" He realized that he was being kept afloat by the creature in the water and said it saved his life. Someone that saw what happened from above said it was a sea lion that saved him.
Kevin Hine's Injuries
Kevin Hines stated that he hit the water in a seated position and felt pain like he had never felt before. He was disoriented under the water and couldn't tell which way was up or down.
In addition, he broke his back, shattering his T12, L1, and L2 lower vertebrae upon impact. He only missed severing his spinal cord by two millimeters. He remembers thinking that he was desperate to live and just kept pushing to get to the surface of the water.
A Natural Protector
Kevin Briggs joined the California Highway Patrol in the early 1990s and was trained to handle traffic incidents. However, before that, he was in the Army for three years with assignments in the United States and Europe.
His law enforcement career started in 1987 as a correctional officer at Soledad State Prison and San Quentin State Prison. Briggs went from a soldier to a guard to a highway patrol officer and finally to a Golden Gate Bridge Guardian.
The California Highway Patrol
Kevin Briggs first applied to the California Highway Patrol for a job after his friend applied. He was curious about what it was all about and found out the job was made for him and was a perfect fit because he was driven to protect people from danger.
However, when he took over the Golden Gate Bridge, his job took a completely different turn. He went from helping with traffic incidents to helping to talk people off of the ledge.
Kevin Briggs lost his mother at a young age to cancer; he joined the Army, and then he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He went through surgery and chemotherapy and then pushed himself to find a career where he could help others.
He had no idea, at the time, how much he was going to help people and how many lives he would save. He received his assignment and thought he would be handling traffic patrol and traffic incidents, but instead, he saved lives.
Out Of His Depths
Kevin Briggs stated that he had no idea how to handle a situation like someone jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He didn't even realize how common it was and when he saw a woman, he thought she was trespassing on the bridge when he found her standing on a narrow beam on the other side of the guardrail. "For me, and I think for any other officer working up there, who may witness something like this, it does not go away. That trauma is there forever.
There are ways to help out with that, through therapy, through eye movement desensitization, and some different things which I've tried. Also, on top of that, if you were the one speaking to that individual, you think, what could I have done differently? What could I have done better? I feel like a little piece of me has died when that individual goes down."
An Eye-Opening Experience
Thankfully, the first suicide he encountered on the bridge ended happily. The woman climbed back over the guardrail and decided to give life another chance. Kevin Briggs considered the moment an eye-opening experience.
Not only did he realize he could help people, he realized how much those people that want to jump are hurting. He stated that people think suicide is a selfish act but that it's not. The people just want their pain to end.
Honing His Skills
Briggs worked on honing his skills over time and learned quickly the best way to approach someone who is contemplating suicide. He learned that you have to approach them slowly, introduce yourself, and then give them control.
He lets them speak as much as they want and lets them know that he understands they are hurting and that life is hard. He asked some of the survivors later what he did right, they said that he listened!
The majority of people who are contemplating suicide have a mental illness. The research found that forty-six percent of people who died by suicide had a known mental health condition. Unfortunately, suicide rates have increased by thirty-five percent since 1999.
Money raised for organizations goes towards trying to help those with mental health conditions. When asked about the money spent on the bridge net, Briggs said, "We could put that money to a lot of use for mental health. But on the other hand, I have not lost a family member on that bridge either."
About 5% Of The Jumpers Survive The Initial Impact
When someone jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge, they fall for roughly four seconds and hit the water at about seventy-five miles per hour. The majority of jumpers die from impact trauma.
However, about five percent survive the initial impact but drown or die of hypothermia in the cold water. Age and fitness can make all the difference, as can the position of a person's body when they hit the water.
Kevin Was Born With Genetic Major Depressive Disorder
Kevin Berthia was born with a genetic major Depressive disorder that he inherited from his biological mother. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a common psychiatric illness.
It is characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities and comes with high levels of morbidity and mortality. Suicide is very common in people that suffer from depression, and many people with depression suffer in silence.
A Pair Of Strangers Revisit A Leap Not Taken
Ten years after Kevin Briggs saved Kevin Berthia from jumping to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge, the two reconnected. They went to the bridge together and have been friends ever since. "I spent eight years not thinking about the bridge. I didn't wanna talk about it ever again."----- Kevin Berthia.
He said to Briggs, "When I first saw you, it was just like two old friends that haven't seen each other in a while. That was the first time I was able to talk about everything that happened that day."
A Number Of Measures Are In Place To Discourage People From Jumping
There are several measures in place on the bridge to discourage people from jumping. There are telephones and hotlines on the bridge, patrols by emergency personnel and bridge workers, and the bridge is now closed to pedestrians at night.
Cyclists are permitted across at night but have to buzz in and out through the remotely controlled security gates. In addition, they are building the suicide barrier around the bridge, which will be done in 2023.
Harold B. Wobber
Harold B. Wobber was a World War I veteran and was the first known intentional death from the Golden Gate Bridge. Wobber was the first suicide, just three months after the bridge opened in 1937. He was employed as a bargeman and took a bus to the bridge.
While he walked the bridge, he talked to a college professor, and while talking, he took off his coat and vest, threw them at the man, and said, "This is where I get off. I'm going to jump."
Luhe "Otter" Vilagomez
Luhe "Otter" Vilagomez was another teen that survived the jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. He broke his coccyx and punctured one lung from the fall. He was helped to shore by a man who was surfing under the bridge.
When asked why he jumped, Otter said he did it for fun and not suicide. The California Highway Patrol suggested that Otter be charged with misdemeanor trespassing and that the teenager undergo a medical and psychiatric evaluation by medical professionals.
The Bridge Documentary
In 2006, The Bridge was released, a documentary film that spans three hundred and sixty-five days of filming at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. The film captured several suicides and featured interviews with some of the friends and family of the jumpers.
The documentary's release added pressure on the Bridge District and created continued public awareness. It was inspired by Tad Friend's article called "Jumpers" in The New Yorker.
The Joy Of Life
The Joy of Life is a documentary film that tells the chronological history of suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge. It touches on key design changes made to the bridge and explores public discussions on the problem of suicide prevention over the decades.
The film won many awards, such as the 2005 Marlon Riggs Award, the 2005 Outstanding Artistic Achievement Award, and the 2005 Best US Narrative Screenplay Award.
The First Documented Pseudocide At The Golden Gate Bridge
There have also been cases of people faking their suicide and death from the bridge. The first documented case of pseudocide was in 1948 and involved Chris J. Christensen, a local jeweler. His coat was found hanging on a work box on the bridge with a note that read, "Loved Ones: My nerves are shot. Please forgive me. Chris."
He was declared dead, but there were many rumors. Over a year later, Christensen was found alive in Texas and said he faked his death because his investors wanted him to do things he couldn't do.
Kenneth Baldwin (left) is another Golden Gate Bridge jumper that survived. He jumped off the bridge in 1985 when he was twenty-eight years old and had just started a family. He was married and had a three-year-old little girl. Ken said, "Everything was unfixable. I've got to get out of this life. Every day was the same; it was the blackness, the darkness.
I started feeling like I was going to help them by dying. I was going to make their lives better. That's the depression talking that they would be better off without me." He told his wife that he would be home late from work but instead went to the bridge and jumped. However, he survived the jump and was given a second chance.
The Experience Of Jumping
Some bridge jumpers have said that the fall felt quick, but others have said that it felt like a long time. Most also said that the experience of jumping was tranquil and peaceful, not frightening or terrifying.
One survivor stated he felt a sense of relief and peace on the way down. Another said, "I did not struggle. I gave up. I was looking forward to what was to come." Most said they didn't see their life flash before their eyes as some say happens.
Most Golden Gate Bridge jumpers don't survive, but the ones that do, suffer several injuries. Some have suffered a ruptured spleen, multiple fractures, broken bones, and bilateral clavicle separations.
However, even people who survived the impact still end up dying from drowning and some also die from hypothermia due to the frigid water. Either way, it is almost impossible to survive the jump and the water without major injuries.
Kevin Berthia had a pact with himself that if someone showed that they cared, he would rethink things. "I actually had a pact with myself; this is something that many suicidal people do. If one person says, 'Are you ok,' 'Is something wrong,' or 'Can I help you?'
I was going to tell them everything and beg them to help me." He was on the bridge for forty minutes with tears streaming down his face because no one had stopped to talk to him until Kevin Briggs showed up.
The Final Leap
The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge was released in 2015 and was written by John Bateson. John was the executive director of a nationally certified suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than fifteen years.
He was also part of the committee that created the California Strategic Plan on Suicide Prevention. The book received very good reviews, with a reader saying it was the perfect accompaniment to the film The Bridge.
What The Cops Do Wrong
Kevin Briggs said that the majority of cops do things wrong when dealing with a suicidal person. He said that they tend to run in there and just handle the situation. Instead, they should take a step back and be flexible and patient.
Briggs had no idea what to do when he first encountered a person wanting to jump from the bridge. He figured out very quickly that running up to them and trying to talk them away from the edge is not the way to do it.
Why Did Kevin Berthia Want To Jump?
Kevin Berthia was in a bad place when he was wanting to jump off the bridge. His daughter had just been born prematurely, and as a result, the family had racked up two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in hospital bills.
He was extremely depressed and full of despair. He thought his family would be better off without him and that it was his only choice. However, because Kevin Briggs listened to him and really cared, he came back over the ledge.
The Ripple Effect
Suicide: The Rippe Effect is a documentary about Kevin Hines' journey. It focuses on the devasting effects of suicide and the tremendous positive ripple effects of advocacy, hope, and inspiration that are helping millions of people stay alive and heal.
It chronicles Hines' personal journal but also the ripple effect it has on those his suicide attempt has impacted. He is now a world-renowned mental health advocate, author, and motivational speaker.
Cracked, Not Broken
Cracked, Not Broken was also written by Kevin Hines. Hines is the twenty-sixth person known to have survived the two hundred and twenty-foot fall from the Golden Gate Bridge.
He talked about how he found a reason for living after years of suffering from being bipolar. This book goes more into mental illness and the reasons behind his suicide attempt. Hines was honored as a Lifetime Achievement Award Winner.
Kevin Briggs has become a speaker for Active Minds and tours the country to help others understand how and why someone would turn to suicide and how we can help them. He talks about his experiences while patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge and shares his own personal struggles with mental and physical health challenges.
In addition, his story has been featured in magazines such as The New Yorker, Men's Health, People, and on The Steve Harvey Show. Kevin also received the 2016 Visionary Leadership Award.
Briggs Retired In 2013
Kevin Briggs finally retired from the California Highway Patrol and from patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013. However, he has gone on to work in suicide prevention and devotes his life to it.
So, he still spends his days helping people, but just in a different way. He teaches how to help people who are contemplating suicide, using the tools and experiences he learned as the Golden Gate Guardian.
'Cowboys Of The Sky'
In addition to Kevin Briggs patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge, there are also ironworkers who volunteer their time to prevent suicides. They are called 'Cowboys of the Sky,' and they see it as part of the job.
They have experience working at extreme heights, and they have equipment and knowledge of the bridge, allowing them to go over the rail and help those in need. One ironworker named Ken Hopper stated that he has rescued thirty suicidal individuals but lost two.