Opinion: Another viewpoint: Let the 'Hope' notes stay up


December 26, 2018

Several days ago, a group of teens and supporters led by River Johnson, 17, zip-tied handwritten, laminated notes of care along the Río Grande Gorge Bridge in hopes that someone on the verge of suicide would reconsider and choose life instead.

Within a few hours, the state highway department had taken the notes down.

One man who saw officials taking down the notes called the newspaper, angry. “They shouldn’t do that. Those notes might help keep someone alive,” he said.

This is not the first group to place notes of love and hope on the bridge. Every time, those notes have been removed.

Johnson wrote to the Department of Transportation’s district engineer, asking him to allow the notes to stay up through the holidays. His polite response: “We cannot allow any objects to be placed on the bridge, however temporarily or permanently affixed, regardless of their physical features, dimensions, materials or intentions.”

To be sure, the highway department must consider safety, and we’re sure it has regulations about what can and can’t be placed on the bridge.

But for 20 years, state lawmakers, advocates and the highway department have argued back and forth about how to prevent people from killing themselves at the bridge.

Nothing has changed except that a couple of crisis lines were added.

Meanwhile, people keep jumping and killing themselves.

Until the state takes some other action to retrofit the bridge, handwritten, laminated notes on zip ties — They say things like “If you leave, someone will hurt as much as you do now” — seem like a low-cost way to try to prevent suicides.

They have worked elsewhere.

In Manchester, England, a woman’s handwritten notes tied on 21 different bridges has been credited by local police for saving at least one life, and possibly as many as a dozen. The project is called Bridge the Gap, launched by Lisa Burns, who once considered suicide. On some of the bridges, police have helped put the notes up.

The Manchester Evening News quoted the police spokesman as saying, “In a time when we are assisting more mental health sufferers, we would like to inform the ‘Bridge the Gap’ initiative that their work is having a positive effect.”

In Sunderland, another part of Britain, a teenager who almost succumbed to depression also began leaving notes of hope on a bridge. The local newspaper wrote that the police department there has credited the college student with saving the lives of six people.

At another bridge in Britain where a woman put up posters to discourage people from taking their own lives, the roads department took them down because they were a distraction. But after a public campaign, the government agreed to work with the community to post messages. This needs to happen here.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe supports the H.O.P.E notes placed on the bridge by Johnson and the teens. He’s even made some laminated notes to place on the bridge and around town.

We urge our outgoing governor, the governor-elect and state highway department officials to meet with Johnson, other Taos teens and supporters to come up with a way H.O.P.E. notes can be posted.

Then we urge lawmakers to finally look at funding taller railings along the bridge. The views won’t be ruined. And lives could be saved.

Isn’t that worth action?

— The Taos News


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