A few weeks ago I wrote a blog article called “The Cost”, in which I spoke about the devastating effects of suicide. Today I am happy to bring you all a story about a life saved rather than lost. It is a tale of teamwork, talent and training combining to literally bring someone back from the precipice. Detective Chris Mahurin, who showed tremendous skill and empathy while performing his duties in this incident, told me the following story about his experiences last Wednesday night. I cannot overstate the sense of pride and gratitude I felt about the men and women I get to work with after Chris told me his story. In my admittedly biased view, we are blessed to live in a community of good and caring residents as well as talented, professional public servants.
Enough of my blathering. Let’s get to Chris’ story about a life saved. It’s a long one, but I think it’ll be worth your time.
Detective Chris Mahurin’s regular assignment is to investigate sex crimes and domestic violence cases. He has a real passion for fighting human trafficking and also for working with youth. Our recent Youth Citizens’ Police Academy was his idea and he led the program. He also volunteers to help out with staffing shortages in our dispatch center, and on Wednesday night he was working an overtime shift there. He was supposed to be done working, but agreed to stay on a little longer to help out. About five minutes after he had been due to go home; a call came in from downtown.
A city employee from the Transit and Public Works Department was in a city parking garage next to the transit mall and found a young person seated on the ledge at the very top of the garage, threatening to jump. Dispatch immediately routed the call to patrol officers nearby. Officers Kyle Boyd and James Harris got to the scene quickly, but the distraught 19 year old did not want to speak, except to express his desire to die.
Chris is also trained as a member of our Hostage Negotiations Team, and was the only HNT member on duty at the time. Knowing that his training and skills could help the youth, he drove to the garage to try and save the youth’s life. He parked in the garage and began running up the stairs to reach the suicidal young person. As he climbed, he found himself alongside another young man. He asked his new companion, who we’ll call John (not his real name), who he was and where he was going, and learned that John was friends with the person on the ledge, who we’ll call Nathan (also not his real name). John gave Chris a quick briefing about the identity of the person on the ledge and what led him there. John wanted to talk with his friend, but Chris was able to convince him that he would be most helpful by telling Officer Harris everything he could about his friend.
When Chris reached the top floor he saw Officer Kyle Boyd trying to convince Nathan to come in off the ledge. Chris took over for Kyle, trying to establish a connection with Nathan. Chris said the next 25 minutes were the scariest, most stressful time he has faced in his career. Knowing that he was the only person in a position to keep this young person from leaping to his death was far more frightening than arresting a violent or potentially armed suspect. Chris didn’t have much success for the first 10 minutes or so as he tried to build a rapport with Nathan. He listened and watched as the young man cried and rocked forward on the ledge as if about to cast himself over the edge.
Eventually, Chris was able to use his training as a negotiator, along with his empathy and personality to open a window of communications with Nathan. He shared personal details of his own life and convinced Nathan that he was not alone in the pain and trauma he was experiencing now. He helped Nathan realize that surviving these experiences would allow him to help others going through similar trials.
Through the 25-30 minutes that Chris worked to save Nathan, Officer Kyle Boyd stood with him, relaying information from Officer James Harris and Nathan’s friend John. Information like that is invaluable to a negotiator working for a tidbit of information that would be the key to getting through to a distraught person. Finally, Nathan came off the ledge and sat on the floor of the garage. The officers sat with him, and then took him for help at Sonoma County’s new Crisis Stabilization Unit. Chris went with him so that Nathan had a person he trusted with him during the admission process. When Nathan was released from the CSU, he called Chris to talk and get more information about the resources Chris had offered on top of the garage.
These events are traumatic for all involved, and it is so nice to be able to report a situation in which teamwork between an alert citizen, dedicated friend, dispatchers, patrol officers, and negotiator saved the life of a young person. Thank you to all involved for a job well done. Thank you especially to the young person for choosing life.
– Captain Craig Schwartz