The recent death of Nicole Wells spawned an outpouring of sympathy from scores of folks throughout the Golden Isles who knew and loved her.
Many of them wondered why the 46-year-old Brunswick woman did not reach out to someone before jumping to her death Feb. 20 from the Sidney Lanier Bridge. The tragic suicide of the owner of Nicole’s Cut Hut in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island has prompted one Golden Isles resident to action.
Kiera Byrd has organized the Shine A Light Bridge Walk this Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. Participants will gather both atop the bridge and below it at Sidney Lanier Park, standing in solidarity to raise awareness of suicide prevention resources, Byrd said. Folks are asked to arrive by 5 p.m. in the parking lot of the Sidney Lanier Park beneath the Brunswick side of the bridge on U.S. Highway 17.
Those who wish to can join the walk up the pedestrian path to the top of the bridge, receiving escort from off-duty Brunswick police officers, Byrd said. Folks can also walk out to the end of the pier beneath the bridge at the Sidney Lanier Park, where memorial wreaths will be tossed into the water, she said. Byrd obtained permits from the City of Brunswick and the state Department of Transportation to hold the observation.
When all are gathered, a 60-second moment of silence will be observed. It will be followed by a rendition of Amazing Grace performed by popular local saxophonist Michael Hulett.
All are invited to attend, Byrd said. While Wells’ death prompted Byrd to action, the gathering seeks to honor all suicide victims, as well as the family, friends and loved ones who grieve their passing, she said.
“This is for anyone who doesn’t want to feel alone in this whole entire situation, with people losing hope and turning to suicide,” she said. “The whole point is to make people aware that there is hope.”
At least 10 people have jumped to their death from the 185-foot-high Sidney Lanier Bridge since it opened in 2003, including two in a span of a week in January of 2017.
Brunswick police found Wells’ vehicle abandoned at the top of the Sidney Lanier Bridge at around 10 p.m. on Feb. 20. Police later learned that she had expressed to acquaintances an intention to jump. An exhaustive search over the next two weeks ensued, headed by the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency and involving city and county police and firefighters, Coast Guard and state Department of Natural Resources officers and numerous volunteers.
Wells’ body was discovered in Clubbs Creek west of the St. Simons Sound by fishermen on Tuesday. Since Wells’ suicide was first noted on social media shortly after the search began, Brunswick police have responded to at least three suicide attempts from the bridge, according to reports. All three were persuaded to seek help.
And there is help out there, said Barbara Meyers, executive director of Coastal Community Health Services. That is a big reason why the organization that provides health care services to low-income and indigent folks in the area has recently added behavioral health services programs, she said. It also is why Coastal Community Health Services is lending its support to the Shine A Light Bridge Walk.
“I think that anything that will bring attention to mental illness and the stigma that still pervades our society regarding mental illness and suicide is a good thing,” Meyers said. “To let people know there are groups out there that are willing to help people get through the dark times. We need to get the word out, to let people know, whatever you’re thinking about doing, give it one more try because there is help and support out there.”
Byrd did not know Wells personally, but she has many friends who did know her. But as a guide on Jekyll Island for Lighthouse Trolley Tours, she takes visitors by the bridge daily. She also can see the bridge from her residence on Jekyll Island.
Byrd usually looks out upon the bridge as a thing of architectural and artistic beauty. But recently it has served as a source of sorrow, knowing that someone’s struggle with inner turmoil ended in tragedy from the bridge.
Some 400 people already have expressed an interest in Byrd’s Shine a Light Bridge Walk page on Facebook. She hopes others who want to take action to raise awareness of suicide prevention will join her Sunday. Among those resources, she notes, is the national suicide prevention hotline number operated by The Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255).
“This event is to bring us together in the light,” she said. “To raise awareness of the Lifeline and other resources available for those considering suicide. To speak openly and honestly about ways we can help our friends and loved ones who might be caught in this darkness. And to honor and recognize the ones we couldn’t reach in time, for whom this was their last walk.”