Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Becoming an Accidental Reporter Leads to Witnessing the Successful Rescue of a 16-year-old Who Jumped off the Cliffs Along Paseo Del Mar

By Diana L. Chapman

The days of being a reporter sometimes never end. It’s in my life blood and when I spotted two Coast Guard helicopters flying over Paseo del Mar, five vessels waiting in the waters edge – and crews of fire engines and police cars Wednesday afternoon – it was obvious something bad had happened.

I didn’t know what. And I wasn’t happy when I found out.

A 16-year-old girl had leaped off our coastal cliffs, plummeting at least 30 feet, in an attempt to kill herself near the intersection of Paseo del Mar and Emily Street. Scores of people were trying to save her and I watched as the helicopter perilously edged in again and again toward the cliff, later successfully carrying her up in a basket to transport her to County-Harbor UCLA Hospital.

Sometimes a crowd can give you a sense of what’s happening by the mood – and the mood was coldly sober. No one wants to hear about a 16-year-old trying to shorten their life when their life should be just beginning.

Most of the watchers didn’t yet know if she was a dead or alive, so the murmurs were short and abrupt whispers.

Many knew she was young. For some police officers – despite that she survived – this must have been a particularly rough day. The mother had called Los Angeles police to let them know the daughter was suicidal and standing at the edge of the cliff.

The police take all those calls seriously, sometimes more than any other, because we’ve had repeated suicide attempts, some successful, over the cliffs year after year after year.

When officers approached to try to talk the young girl down, she leaped, Los Angeles Police Harbor Division Capt. Willie Hayes told me. Even though, she was going to survive and apparently suffered a broken leg, my mind went crazy with all sorts of thoughts:

--Thank God the mother was smart to call police and to take this seriously instead of thinking she could settle this on her own.

--Thank God there were rescuers putting their own lives at risk to help this girl, in particular, the guy dangling at the side of the helicopter – and the pilot daringly edging into not-such-an-easy aviation attempt – a 90 degree cliff side with beating blades.

--Thank God for the officers who approached the victim in an attempt to talk her down, who probably went home feeling pretty badly that they couldn’t keep a 16-year-old from jumping off San Pedro’s suicide cliffs.

Because the girl was a minor, Capt. Hayes couldn’t release her name.

I got home and immediately received a call from Los Angeles School Board official, the chief of staff for School Board member Richard Vladovic. I could hear the upset in his voice (perhaps because he’s a former teacher and he and his wife are going to have their first baby and he’s feeling the weight of raising a child even more intensely.) He asked me if it was an LAUSD student.

That I didn’t know. But David Kooper was immediately on the phone to ask. I had a feeling he wanted to help the family in whatever way he could. He later found out the student was from Mary Star High School. "I just can't imagine that so many children think tht their whole life could be doomed because of a short term problem," David emailed. "We really do need to do more to show our kids that there are opportunities for them to be successful no matter what the circumstance."

As a former reporter whose been to hundreds of varying scenes over the years, I’d never quite captured or witnessed a mood like this. What mattered the most was the outpouring of caring I sensed in the crowd, with the police, with the crises unit team that arrived, with the paramedics, and the firefighters.

Typically, I don’t get this sensation. People tend to act matter-of-fact with not much more that curiosity. I don’t know if it’s the bad economy making us rethink our lives. Or if it was just the age of this young girl that made everybody start wrestling with their thoughts and conscious. I know it made me wrestle with mine. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never been able to answer this question:

Why do teenagers kill – or try to kill themselves -- when they have their whole life ahead of them?

For me, I truly believe that teenagers just haven’t yet gained the wisdom of adulthood, where you begin to realize that today truly doesn’t mean tomorrow. Life ebbs and flows and what seems bad in the moment, can be the seed that was planted to make the provocative transplants necessary in a life.

Perhaps that’s what we need to teach them. While today may be raining, tomorrow the sun maybe be slipping into place, exactly where you want it to shine.