On March 11, 2005, Kevin Berthia spoke with Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs for 92 minutes, ultimately prompting him to step back from the ledge instead of taking his own life.
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.
When his career and relationship fell apart, so did Kevin Berthia. Deep in the throes of depression, Berthia found himself at the Golden Gate Bridge on March 11, 2005, prepared to throw himself from it and end his life. He had attempted suicide before; he intended this time to be his last.
He climbed over the railing and stood on the edge, 220 feet in the air with the wind whipping against his back. Then, he heard a voice call out: “Hey, wait a minute.” Miraculously, Berthia did. Above him on the other side of the railing stood California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs, the man who had called out to him.
For the next hour and a half, the two men talked on opposite sides of the railing. At the same time, a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle, John Storey, was nearby and captured a photo of Briggs and Berthia talking — and the moment Briggs and a fellow officer helped pull Berthia back to the other side.
But Berthia’s woes didn’t suddenly disappear overnight. For years, he struggled with depression and refused to look at the now-famous photographs of him on the bridge.
By 2013, he told KCBS, he was up to 22 suicide attempts. Now, however, he works as a suicide prevention advocate and has found happiness — happiness he may never have found had it not been for a stranger on a bridge.
The Grim Connection Between The Golden Gate Bridge And Suicide
Since its construction finished in 1937, Golden Gate Bridge has been the site of more than 1,800 suicides. In fact, these attempts are so frequent that rumors have circulated that people come from all over the world to attempt suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge.
The latter statement is untrue, but data from the Bridge Rail Foundation shows the unfortunate reality of the situation. 92 percent of people who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge are from California; 85 percent live within an hour of the bridge. The two groups of people most likely to jump are students and teachers.
Once that threshold has been crossed, jumpers fall 220 feet in a terrifying four seconds, falling at a speed of 75 miles per hour. Of the more than 1,800 people who have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, fewer than 35 have survived. Almost every single one of the survivors said they wanted to live as soon as they jumped.
All of this paints a rather grim picture, but it also offers insight into the mindsets of many who jump. The Golden Gate Bridge offers a near total guarantee they won’t survive. People who find themselves in that position feel, for whatever reason, that they would be better off dead — a viewpoint that is entirely incorrect.
Still, depression can warp the mind, making it seem as if thoughts of self-harm and suicide are correct or justified. When these feelings aren’t dealt with, they can push people to do otherwise unthinkable things — like throwing themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Kevin Berthia was one of these people.
The Day Kevin Berthia Nearly Died By Suicide On The Golden Gate Bridge
“I had never been to the Golden Gate bridge before that day. I didn’t even know how to get there — I had to ask for directions,” Kevin Berthia recalled in an interview with The Guardian. “I had never dealt with any of the problems in my life, and that morning I was overwhelmed by it all.”
Berthia had been adopted at six months; his adoptive parents divorced when he was 12. By March 11, 2005, Berthia was a father himself at the age of 22. His infant daughter had been born premature, and the medical costs required for her care were nearly $250,000. He was drowning in an ocean of debt. He blamed himself.
“I had never spoken to anybody about how I felt and I never accepted I had depression. Where I come from — Oakland, California — reputation is everything,” Berthia said, “so I convinced everyone I was OK. But I was tired and I couldn’t do it any more.”
Berthia parked his car nearby and made his way onto the bridge. Just before he hopped over the railing, he made eye contact with Officer Kevin Briggs.
Ten years later, Briggs and Berthia met again and recalled the moment on NPR’s StoryCorps.
“…I see you standing on the sidewalk,” Briggs said, addressing Berthia. “You looked at me and went over that rail and I thought you were gone.”
The Conversation That Saved Kevin Berthia’s Life
It wasn’t the first time Kevin Briggs had seen someone on that ledge. He ran over to where he saw Berthia jump the railing and found the 22-year-old hugging the railing, his back turned to the water below.
“I was overwhelmed with everything,” Berthia explained. “It’s like everything that I ever was bothered by, everything that I was ever dealing with came up on one day. And I just felt like a failure. All I gotta do is lean back and everything is done. I’m free of all this pain.”
Briggs commented that he though Berthia seemed mad in that moment, and he was right. Berthia explained the feeling.
“I was just mad at myself for being in that situation and I was embarrassed,” he said.
As Berthia described it, it was the “compassion” in Briggs’ voice that helped him to lower his guard and have a conversation.
“We talked for 92 minutes about everything that I was dealing with,” Berthia said. “My daughter, her first birthday was the next month. And you made me see that if nothing else, I need to live for her.”
At the end of those 92 minutes, Briggs and another officer took hold of Berthia’s hands and pulled him back to the other side.
“There were reporters everywhere, so they covered my face and took me to San Francisco general hospital. I was exhausted. The next thing, I was at Fremont Medical Centre, where I stayed for a week,” Berthia said. “Afterwards I went back to my old habit of burying things, and never talked about the bridge.”
Berthia didn’t see Briggs again for years after, and it took him the better part of eight years to look at the photo of himself standing on the bridge.
Fortunately, he eventually found the strength in himself to come to terms with what had happened in his life and move forward through it.
Kevin Berthia’s Work As A Suicide Prevention Advocate
“News reports from that event got it wrong. They said I was happy and married with two children,” Berthia said. “Reporters are always after the happily-ever-after ending. I had two children, yes, but I wasn’t married, nor was I happy. I had had a lot of highs and lows in those intervening eight years.”
The moment that led Berthia to finally face the picture came in May 2013, when he was asked to present an award to Briggs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s lifesavers dinner in New York.
“That was the first time I had looked him in the eye — on the bridge I had my head down,” he said. “At that dinner I saw the impact of the photograph on everyone in the room and realized my story could help people.”
Since then, Berthia has become a suicide prevention advocate and started the Kevin Berthia Foundation to encourage others to talk through their problems and find hope rather than suffering in silence.
“I now know that depression is a part of me but not who I am,” he said. “I have three children and a new partner with whom I will spend the rest of my life. Now is the happily ever after.”
For more inspiring stories like Kevin Berthia’s, read the story of Kevin Hines, who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, read the story of Elvita Adams‘ survival after leaping from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.