St. Paul's High Bridge: Suicide Hot Spot

Ever since the original High Bridge was built in 1889, it's been a magnet for people seeking to end their lives

A few months after Johnson's fateful plunge, she tracked down Bob Deck through the Science Museum. She didn't trust her own murky memory about what had transpired that morning. "I actually wanted to know that he really existed," she says.

Johnson met him at the museum one day after work. The unlikely pair awkwardly shook hands. They chatted on a bench in an exhibit room, the High Bridge visible from the windows. She peppered Deck with questions: What time did he come upon her? Where exactly had she come ashore? What did she say? She tried in vain to explain to him why a seemingly healthy, happy, 32-year-old mom had flung herself off the High Bridge.

Although Johnson credits him with saving her life, Deck insists that what he did was no big deal. "I can't really wear a hero hat for that," he says. "She saved herself."

Jon Krause
The High Bridge was rebuilt in the mid-'80s after engineers determined that it wasn't structurally sound
Nick Vlcek
The High Bridge was rebuilt in the mid-'80s after engineers determined that it wasn't structurally sound

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WHERE TO GO FOR HELP

SAVE: This Bloomington-based nonprofit runs grief-support programs, a speaker's bureau, and continuing education programs for mental health professionals. Phone: 952.946.7998

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This 24-hour, toll-free hotline is linked up with 120 crisis centers across the country. Its mission is to provide immediate help to anyone seeking mental health services. Phone: 800.273.8255

American Association of Suicidology: This national nonprofit group seeks to understand and prevent suicide. It provides services to suicide survivors, puts together conferences on mental health issues, and supports research into suicide prevention. Phone: 202.237.2280

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Today, Johnson shows no visible scars from her suicide attempt. Seated at a Dunn Bros coffee shop in St. Paul on a recent Friday afternoon, she's dressed casually in jeans and a red sweater. She laughs often recalling that harrowing night on the High Bridge. "I wouldn't recommend it," she says of jumping off the bridge.

Despite a surrounding crowd of coffee drinkers, she speaks with no inhibitions. Less than three years have passed, but it's as if she's telling a tale about some other person's life. "I knew that the end was coming," she says. "I could feel it. It was imminent." Now 34 and expecting her second child, Johnson wants to share her story in hopes that it somehow will help prevent other people from making the same awful choice.

The path back from suicidal despondency wasn't traversed overnight. For months she obsessed over her narrow escape from death. She couldn't understand why she'd been spared. Occasionally the urge to end her life resurfaced. But she'd promised friends and family that she wouldn't attempt suicide again. Somehow that was enough to pull her through.

The High Bridge, visible each morning as she drove to work, continued to haunt her. To this day she doesn't feel comfortable walking over it alone. But at least now she can drive across the structure without feeling extreme anxiety.

"It is like an event horizon, like a black hole," Johnson says. "The closer you are to it the stronger it is. But the further away you get the less you feel it. It's really fading now, just into a series of memories."

Where to go for help

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
This Bloomington-based nonprofit runs grief-support programs, a speaker's bureau, and continuing education programs for mental health professionals.

Website: www.save.org

Phone: 952.946.7998

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
This 24-hour, toll-free hotline is linked up with 120 crisis centers across the country. Its mission is to provide immediate help to anyone seeking mental health services.

Phone: 800.273.8255

American Association of Suicidology
This national nonprofit group seeks to understand and prevent suicide. It provides services to suicide survivors, puts together conferences on mental health issues, and supports research into suicide prevention.

Website: www.suicidology.org

Phone: 202.237.2280

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