Vista Bridge volunteer: 'It took just a second - it was so quick'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Jan Schumacher had been close to death herself, and she narrowly escaped. That's why she was on the Vista Bridge on Monday morning.

This time, there was no escaping. She could only watch hopelessly from three feet away as a man jumped to his death around 6 a.m.

"I'm sad today. I'm really sad," she said Monday evening. "You don't watch someone die every day. I'm sad for me, I'm sad for him. I'm brokenhearted for him, I'm brokenhearted for his family, I'm brokenhearted for the whole community of people.

"We're all broken today. Today, we broke."

Schumacher is one of a team of volunteers patrolling what's come to be known as "Suicide Bridge" in Northwest Portland. The man was the fifth person to jump to his death from it this year.

The city is in the process of installing a net screen around the bridge to prevent future suicides, but the project isn't scheduled to be finished for about two more weeks. The man who jumped Sunday was the second person to kill himself at the bridge since planning for the net began.

Schumacher began her shift - it was her sixth or seventh, she said - at 5:30 a.m. Monday.

About 15 minutes later, a police officer stopped by to tell her she was doing great work.

"I said 'Don't worry about me, I got this one. Not on my shift. Not on my shift,'" she said.

It was another 15 or so minutes later when a man drove to the far end of the bridge and got out of his vehicle with the motor running and the hazard lights on.

Based on his demeanor, Schumacher thought he'd lost something. She offered to help.

When he was about 15 feet away, she realized something was badly amiss.

"I said 'Please don't do this. Please don't do this. I'm here to talk to you. I'll talk to you about anything,'" she said.

"It took just a second. It was so quick."

Schumacher was badly burned in 2008. She's undergone 35 surgeries and multiple amputations, including parts of her hands. She's dedicated her life to helping others.

Eighteen volunteers were initially trained to work on the bridge. Later, 30 more joined. On Friday, somebody left a note for them.

"I don't know if you'll read this or not, but thank you. You've saved me," it read.

All the training she received was helpful, but still didn't prepare her, Schumacher said.

"You don't spend a lot of time thinking what you're actually going to do if it occurs," she said. "You spend more time thinking 'I'm up here, I'm going to be a presence, no-one's going to jump. They're not going to jump hopefully because you're there.

"Hopefully you give them that thin thread, that moment where they get to think about what they're about ready to do."

Schumacher said she's still trying to balance her need to help people with what she saw Monday.

"Intellectually I'm circling around the fact that I know I did all I could," she said. "I was present - he didn't die alone.

"But my heart's broken today because whatever I did wasn't enough."

Schumacher said she'll continue to work on the bridge. She also said the family has suggested they might like to talk to her, and that she'll likely oblige.

"I'll probably give them a few days and give myself a few days and then talk about his last time here," she said.

Available resources

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or needs help, police say the following options are available:

  • The Multnomah County Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at (503) 988-4888.
  • Lines for Life is available 24 hours a day at (503) 972-3456.
  • Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has an urgent walk-in clinic open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week. Payment is not necessary. Call (503) 963-2575.