HARTFORD, Conn. – After a 7-month-old boy was thrown to his death from a bridge last month, local officials have been considering safety improvements for the 90-foot-high span over the Connecticut River that has been known for decades as a destination for suicidal people.
Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew is compiling information on netting, fencing, suicide hotline phones and other measures that have been installed on bridges and other suicide hot spots worldwide, calling the review a "moral responsibility."
"There's no guarantee that prevention measures would have stopped this," Drew said about the child's death. "Regardless, if there is any possibility of preventing something like this in the future, we have an obligation to look at it."
Drew is putting together the information for the state Department of Transportation. The agency has authority over the 77-year-old Arrigoni Bridge, which carries Routes 66 and 17 over the Connecticut River between Middletown and Portland, about 20 miles south of Hartford.
Drew said police are still combing through reports to determine exactly how many people have jumped off the bridge, but he knows from being mayor for the past 3½ years that several people jump each year. Some survive, some don't, he said.
Middletown police say 21-year-old city resident Tony Moreno confessed to throwing his son, Aaden, off the bridge July 5 and then jumping himself amid a custody dispute with Aaden's mother, Adrianne Oyola. Aaden died and Moreno survived. He's detained on $2.1 million bail on charges including murder and violating a restraining order.
Court records show Moreno exchanged angry text messages with Oyola minutes before he jumped, including one that said, "Enjoy your new life without us. He's dead."
Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, said netting installed at places like the Munster Terrace cathedral in Bern, Switzerland, and on the Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, D.C., has eliminated suicides.
One study of suicide hot spots across the world, by Jane Pirkis of the University of Melbourne and several peers, found that barriers like nets reduced suicides by 86 percent. But jumping suicides increased 44 percent at places near the sites where barriers were installed. The study said the "net gain" was a 28 percent reduction in all jumping suicides.
Humphreys said there are two kinds of people who commit suicide: those who are impulsive and those who plan it out.
"The impulsive ones are deterred by barriers," he said. "What they can't get rid of is people who are planful. Those kinds of folks are harder to deter."
Anti-suicide netting and fencing on bridges appear to be gaining some favor. At the Golden Gate Bridge in California, a $76 million suicide barrier — stainless steel cable nets — will be installed to stop dozens of people each year from jumping to their deaths.
Some San Diego residents are studying the feasibility of adding similar nets to the city's Coronado Bridge to prevent suicides.
The George Washington Bridge spanning New York and New Jersey will be getting a new 9-foot fence to replace the current railing to make jumping more difficult.
Connecticut Department of Transportation officials say there are no plans to add barriers to any bridges in the state, but they are open to suggestions.
Carol Siecienski, who lives near the Arrigoni Bridge and whose daughter is friends with Aaden's mother, believes some kind of barrier needs to be installed.
"It's about time one of our higher-ups (officials) does something," Siecienski said. "They need to put something up there because of all the people jumping off."