A HEROIC SAVE

 

New Haven |On Sunday, 30 July, 2017, at 12:25 PM, Firefighters and Officers Yonick Crawford, Jason Jemiola and Paul Cavalier were dispatched to the Madison Towers at 111 Park Street. A dispatcher let the responding cops know there was an emotionally disturbed woman on the roof of the sixteen story apartment high-rise. An eagle-eyed Yale Police dispatcher saw the call on the screen and let YPD officers in the area know. A firefighter made the first contact.

 

A crowd of on-lookers had gathered on the ground below. The officers could see the woman above as they entered the building.

 

TO THE ROOF

 

Officers Crawford and Jemiola made their way up. Yale University Police Sergeant Dan Rainville and Officer Alex Rivera had arrived moments earlier and had begun talking with the woman. A chain-link fence surrounded the perimeter of the roof. There was just enough of the available ledge for the woman to stand. She was in clear distress and on the outside of the fence. Her heals were perched at the edge as she faced inward.

 

The distraught woman is twenty-four years old. She is not a resident nor was she a visitor at Madison Towers. She spotted the cautiously approaching emergency medical personnel and officers and yelled at them to stay back. She was drinking merlot from a bottle. She told the officers that she wanted to end her life. She said she would jump.

 

Responding to what they were hearing, they pleaded with her not to jump. The woman was, at some moments, holding on to the fence by a finger or two.

 

Occasionally, she’d lean backward with nothing between her and the pavement below. The YPD officers told her they wanted to talk with her. They wanted to better understand what she was going through. They told her they were there to listen to her.

 

YPD Sergeant Rainville and Officer Alex Rivera begged her to come closer to the fence and at least to hold on to it. Rivera, a trained Hostage Negotiator, listened as much as he talked. He allowed her to tell her story. She told him she’d argued with her husband, she gone through difficult times with work and was done with life. He encouraged her to think of those that care about her, those that would suffer in this world without her. After several frightening stumbles, Officer Rivera persuaded her to hold on to the fence.

 

HUSBAND & WIFE OFFICERS INCH CLOSER

 

Officer Elsa Berrios, the only female on the roof besides the distressed woman, arrived with the rookie officer she was training, Randy Billups. Officer Jemiola saw her approaching and asked the woman if talking to her would make her feel more comfortable. She agreed.

 

The woman allowed Officer Berrios to get close enough to talk with her. Cautiously, she inched forward to the woman on the precarious ledge. They spoke for a while, their conversation switching from English to Spanish – back and forth. They spoke in whichever language seemed to comfort the woman. “Me brinco”, said the woman – slang Spanish for “I’ll jump”. Then she chugged the remainder of a bottle of wine.

 

As they spoke, the woman reached into her bag and took out a can of beer. She fumbled. The can dropped and the woman reached for it. She stumbled but didn’t fall. Meanwhile, on the ground, NHPD Sergeant Terrence McNeil was busy trying to gather information on what had led up to the situation playing out above. He was able to reach an acquaintance of the woman. Her phone number was radioed to Officer Jemiola. The woman said she’d be eager to speak with her friend but wouldn’t come close enough to Officer Berrios to take the phone. Perhaps she was worried they’d have attempted to grab her. “We’re sisters… hermanas”, said Berrios. “We are all tired… we all have bad days”, she said.

 

It was then that Officer Elvin Rivera (Officer Berrios’ husband) arrived with the rookie officer he was training, Officer Stephanie James. He called to the woman, “Mamá”! Officer Elvin Rivera started talking with the woman as his wife had done – in both English and Spanish. Their conversation seemed all over the place. They spoke of religion and other things. The woman seemed comfortable talking with Rivera. The woman mentioned her feet were “on fire” due to the sunbaked tar roof. Officer Berrios suggested they get her some ice. She asked Officer Crawford to find some.

 

THE ICE ARRIVED

 

At this point, the conversations with the woman had been going on for close to an hour. There were not many moments of true clarity. This was a tense and emotional rollercoaster for those involved. Compassionate and sometimes frantic pleas punctuated the conversations as the team off officers at the center of the roof and those on the ground strategized their next moves. Truth be told, there weren’t any sensible strategies. Nothing would have worked other than what they were doing – talking.

 

The ice the woman had requested had arrived. Afraid to move much from their positions, the officers, in bucket-brigade fashion, passed the container to Officer Elvin Rivera. He’d inched it to the ledge where Officer Berrios had been earlier. At his position, the fence cut in a bit. The ledge where he stood was somewhat wider than where the woman was. “Yo te quiero, y Dios te quieres” (“I love you and God loves you”), exclaimed Elvin Rivera. “Enfrente en los ojos de Dios ven a mi”. (“In front of God’s eyes, come to me”), he said with open arms.

 

By this time, the woman was holding on to the fence. She’d lean back allowing a foot to dangle over the edge. An occasional finger-grip on the chain-link was all that prevented her fall. Officer Elvin Rivera pleaded with her and offered her the ice cubes. He needed her to get closer. With the ice in hand, he was able to coax her toward him.

 

Officer Rivera saw his chance. He reached out and grabbed her. She tried pushing away. She struggled violently. YPD Sergeant Rainville had removed his duty-belt in case he needed to climb the fence. The group of officer standing on the other side rushed forward. Rainville, Alex Rivera and Jemiola reached over the fence as Elvin Rivera held on to the woman’s arm for dear life. The officers got a better hold and pulled the woman to safety. Officers brought her to a waiting ambulance.

 

On the ground, the back-story had developed. A man she’d met earlier on Derby Avenue claimed he’d asked her to “hang out”. They wandered downtown and snuck up to the roof. From there, he said, she made it to the edge. She told him she wanted to jump. The man wasn’t able to stop her. He went down to the lobby and had someone there phone police.

 

There was PCP in the woman’s backpack. (PCP or Phencyclidine, also known as angel dust among other names, is a dissociative drug. Common side effects of PCP can include hallucinations, delirium and mania.)

 

THE REUNION

 

On Monday afternoon, the woman who’d been on the edge days earlier was in the lobby at police headquarters. She’d come alone and wanted to meet Officer Rivera and the others who’d saved her life. In the public lobby, they shared an emotional private moment. They’d all been through a lot and were each thankful.

 

There is no blueprint that’ll assure success in saving a suicidal person from death. Whether influenced by drugs and alcohol, tormented by mental illness or trauma or those who suffer through immeasurable heartache, require unique approaches. Berrios and Rivera are two of the many NHPD & YPD members trained as CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) officers.

 

To date, about eighty NHPD officers are CIT trained – with department-wide training set as a future goal. The department’s Emergency Services Unit includes twelve specially trained Hostage Negotiators and relies on partnerships with a variety of groups that specialize in related matters. Those groups include the Peer Support Group, Employee Assistance Program, The Yale Child Study Center, CABLE (The Connecticut Association to Benefit Law Enforcement), area hospitals and CMHC (Connecticut Mental Health Center) as well as veterans and substance abuse organizations.

 

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