Rangers trained to stop suicides

Schools also have prevention program

A Ranger with the Colorado Nation Monument checks on a van that hangs precariously with its rear wheels over the brink of a 180-foot precipice above Red Canyon in the Colorado National Monument Thursday afternoon

When Jose Iglesias rappelled 120 feet down the side of Red Rock Canyon on Wednesday to rescue a 34-year-old man from an alleged suicide attempt on Colorado National Monument, he found a fortunate, and thankful, man.

“I have never seen something like that. He was really lucky to be alive,” said Iglesias, director of the Mesa County Technical Rescue Team. “He repeated thanks like three or four times. The impression was that he was happy. He was very thankful.”

The monument’s superintendent, Joan Anzelmo, said she is positive the man was attempting suicide.

“This was definitely not an accident,” she said. “We feel strongly that he intentionally drove himself off Rim Rock Drive. Our investigation is still continuing, but we feel very strongly that he drove himself off Rim Rock Drive to commit suicide.”

The man, who declined to comment Thursday as he was recovering from his injuries at St. Mary’s Hospital, almost became the latest suicide statistic at the monument. Reducing the frequency of such incidents has been a goal of Anzelmo’s since she took the job as superintendent.

“It is unfortunate that all the attention gets paid to these more dramatic stories, that is committing suicide,” Anzelmo said. “That is not what we want to be known for.”

In 2008, there were 28 suicide attempts — they include drug overdoses, jumpers, vehicles off Rim Rock Drive and shootings — at the monument, and two were successful, Anzelmo said.

In an effort to keep people from killing themselves, amid these rocky and majestic vistas, the park started training its gate staff last year to look for the warning signs of suicide. Park rangers have been getting federal training on suicide prevention for a few years.

To train gate keepers and other staff at the park, Anzelmo turned to Sheila Linwood, executive director of the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Coalition. As recently as Thursday, the day of the alleged suicide attempt, park staff received training from Linwood.

Signs that someone may be suicidal include people not making eye contact or they’re seemingly despondent, looking at the ground, unwilling to communicate or looking somewhat disheveled, Linwood said.

“Just their whole nature there. Is (there) something off that causes you concern?” Linwood said.

A similar program is being integrated in School District 51, she said.

“We lost four children in 2006, and in 2007 the school district has mandated our safe teen program,” Linwood said. “Since that time, we have not lost one child in Mesa County to suicide.”

The next step is intervention.

If someone is suspected of contemplating suicide, talk to the person, she said.

“We completely advocate that,” she said. “We cannot wait for professionals, because this person may never see a professional for help.”

The obligation to prevent suicide falls upon everyone in the community, she said.

“They are in so much pain now, they just want the pain to end,” Linwood said. “We need to understand they are in a great amount of pain, and they need us to reach in and help them.”

When Iglesias reached in to help the man behind the wheel of the van that plunged down the monument, and perched itself on a ledge 180 feet above the canyon floor, the man inside reached for him.

“He helped a little,” Iglesias said.

And thanks to the efforts of many, the man has a second chance at life.

“That is a great thing,” Iglesias said. “Every time we rescue somebody, it is good. It gives us more energy.”


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