News: Deadly Storeys

Another jump, but Main Public Library declines to act

Feb 25, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Room with a view: Two people have jumped to their deaths in the main library's atrium. A third person recently tried.

People are literally jumping in the library — sometimes to their deaths. The most recent incident occurred the evening of Jan. 12, when a man made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by jumping from the second floor at the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He was at least the third person to jump from an interior top floor in the library. The first two died.

When the library opened in 1957 at Eighth and Vine streets downtown, it was praised for its sweeping atrium views. Aside from the wealth of knowledge, the beautiful brick facade atrium is one of the main attractions of the main branch.

A longtime library employee, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, is distraught and frustrated about the suicide attempt at her workplace.

"It's getting to be a regular thing," she says. "They need to do something about it. This is a great job, but it makes me feel weird working here because of what happened."

The employee is also adamant about public awareness of the deaths.

"They (library) want to keep it a secret but it needs to be out in the open," she says. "People need to know. They are so concerned about the look of the library, when they need to be concerned about this problem."

Don't ask, don't tell
"Jean" — not her real name — is another longtime library employee. She witnessed the first suicide and shudders as she recalls the incident.

"It was either 1990 or 1991, around 3:30 p.m.," she says. "I was in the Films and Recordings Department facing the atrium. I looked — and all of a sudden a white man with a blank expression was falling from the third floor. His body hitting the floor sounded like a bulldozer."

Jean says she was mortified by the event and offended that the library didn't close. Distraught, she immediately left work. She says the library offered employees grief counseling the next day.

The second suicide was perhaps the most devastating for library employees. On Sept. 27, 2002, a 27-year-old employee jumped to her death from the third floor.

Jean, who had befriended the woman, described her as a wonderful, humorous, free-spirited person.

"You wouldn't think she had a care in the world," Jean says.

She saw no warning signs that Bradley was depressed or dealing with personal issues.

In the past, library officials declined to discuss the suicides with the media for fear of "copycat" incidents. Library officials often don't even disclose the incidents to employees. Jean says she heard about the Jan.12 suicide attempt from her 17-year-old son, who was at the main branch after school.

The library again remained open for business, and the incident wasn't reported in the news media. Amy Banister, the library's public relations director, objected to a reporter's questions.

"I don't know why CityBeat is reporting this incident," she said. "Attempts at suicide are not reported in the press because it plants ideas in people's minds."

Banister said she views the Jan. 12 incident as a serious cry for help from a mentally ill person — not necessarily a serious suicide attempt.

"If someone were serious and wanted to do something permanent, would you do it from the second floor of a five-story building?" she said. "It was a way to express himself that he needs help."

Banister abruptly ended the interview but called the next day to apologize.

"I'm sorry," she said. "This is a difficult situation. We would all like to protect others and don't want ill to befall them."

No change expected
The library is very concerned at the tragedies that have taken place but there is only so much it can do to protect people from themselves, according to Banister.

"You can't shut down bridges because people want to jump," she said. "If someone desires to end their life, they will."

More than 1.3 million people visited the library last year, and the wide variety of human traffic makes it impossible to have adequate security to watch every patron, Banister said.

"An architect was hired to investigate the current architecture of the building to see what could be done to prevent further attempted occurrences," she said. "The board of trustees reviewed the architect's plans and there are currently no plans to make changes."

"Jean" read a memo saying the library was considering installing glass around the 3.5-foot high brick walls on top floors of the main branch. Putting up some kind of wall to prevent potential suicides might detract from the aesthetic value of the atrium. But Jean's concern is for the well-being of the employees.

"People will do what they want to, but the staff's emotional state needs to be protected," she says.

Banister says she empathizes, but the library's powers are limited.

"How can you truly protect someone who wants to kill themselves?" she said.

The mother of the employee who jumped to her death last year was exasperated to hear of the most recent suicide attempt at the library and of the library's refusal to make changes to prevent recurrences.

"I'm very concerned this has happened again," the woman's mother says. "They're not responding at the library. They're not concerned. It's a factor of safety. Next time it's going to be a little child and they'll end up getting sued. What's it going to take?"

Suicide is often preventable when warning signs are recognized. Warnetta Crawford-Mann, senior staff therapist at the University of Cincinnati's Counseling Center, says a variety of factors predispose a person to suicide.

"The majority of people are clinically depressed or have some kind of severe mood disorder, and sometimes it can be a sudden loss of a job, family member or relationship," Mann says.

A person who attempts or commits suicide is not the only victim. Family members and friends must deal with their doubts, anger and guilt. Mann says a lot of people feel talking about suicide or depression is taboo but says that in order to help someone they need to talk about what's bothering them.

Popular belief holds that persons considering suicide usually don't convey their intentions. But that's wrong, according to Mann.

"The best sign that someone wants to commit suicide is they start talking about it," she says.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, Mann says the best course is to go to University Hospital for emergency psychiatric help or call 513-281-CARE, a suicide hotline.

"The hotline is the best place to call because it has all the resources to tell someone where to go and you don't get the run-around," she says. ©