The next time a person begins that lonely, despondent journey to end it all at the top of the Sidney Lanier Bridge, hopefully he or she will see the signs of hope.
Those signs are now clearly visible at various locations on the 185-foot-high bridge over the Brunswick River. Each of the four signs installed Aug. 13 on the bridge offer a reminder that the person considering this final desperate act is not alone.
“When it seem like there is no hope,” the signs read, “THERE IS HELP.”
Above this is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 800-273-8255, or TALK. Beside it is the same message in Spanish, with the Spanish language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number: 888-628-9454. There is a 6 foot x 5 foot sign at the approach on either side of the bridge; smaller 2 1/2 foot x 2-foot signs are located on the barrier along the walkway at the top on each side of the bridge.
While the signs were installed by the DOT at a total cost of $836.50, the real impetus behind these suicide prevention measures was a group of concerned citizens. It started in March when hundreds took part in the Shine A Light Bridge Walk at the Sidney Lanier Bridge.
Jekyll Island resident Kiera Byrd was among those who spearheaded the walk, as well as subsequent efforts to bring more prevention awareness to the Sidney Lanier Bridge.
“It’s amazing,” Byrd said. “It feels like all of a sudden, people really made a difference. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
That walk had been preceded by the tragedy of yet another person jumping to their death from the Sidney Lanier Bridge. Nicole Wells was a popular and beloved local hair-dresser. Brunswick police found her vehicle abandoned atop the bridge at around 10 p.m. on Feb. 20. Police later learned the owner of Nicole’s Cut Hut in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island had told acquaintances of her intention to jump.
Fishermen discovered her body on March 12 on Clubbs Creek off the St. Simons Sound. At least 10 people have jumped to their deaths from Sidney Lanier Bridge since it opened in 2003, according to Brunswick Police. Byrd never knew Wells, but she felt as if she did after reading all the social media posts of condolences and well wishes for Wells and her family.
That is what prompted Byrd to organize the Shine A Light Bridge Walk, assisted by community leaders such as Hal Hart of Ace Island Hardware, Cap Fendig of Fendig Tours and Barbara Myers of the Coastal Community Heath Services.
Hundreds of folks turned out to take part in the walk and observance, which consisted of a walk up the bridge, the laying of a wreath on the waters and a moving saxophone rendition of Amazing Grace by local musician Michael Hulett.
On the groundswell of that event’s emotionally-charged show of support, the Shine a Light Bridge Walk Alliance formed. The group started local, gaining the support of the Glynn County Commission and the Brunswick City Commission. With enthusiastic local government support, the organizers turned to local state representatives, such as William Ligon, R-White Oak, and Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island.
A resolution supporting their efforts to reduce suicides on the Sidney Lanier Bridge found favor late in the 2019 legislative session at the Capital in Atlanta. Byrd knew little beforehand about the wheels of government bureaucracy, other than that they were known notoriously to churn sluggishly. She entrusted that part of Hart and Fendig, her employer and a former two-term County Commissioner.
“We met with senators and city and county government and state representatives and pled our case to each the same way,” Byrd said. “And we got a promise for action from each. I don’t know much about politics, but I didn’t expect anything anytime soon. Then, all of a sudden, bam. There were these signs up. We got results from our representatives, that’s for sure.”
Byrd and others ultimately would like to see a higher barrier placed along the bridge rails, making it more difficult to climb over. The speed with which the state placed the prevention signs on the bridge has inspired her to keep going. To learn more about the group, check out its Facebook page for the Shine A Light Bridge Walk Alliance.
“This was a community effort — everybody helped make it happen,” Byrd said.
“It’s a very good step in the right direction.”