Life-saving Call Shows We Have Compassion
When a Toronto church pastor saw a young woman standing on the Leaside bridge, he thought she looked suspicious. Fearing she might jump, he called 911 - just in case.
The female appeared young, perhaps a teenager, but it was hard to tell with a hoodie pulled over her head. It was her backpack, set down in the dirty snow against te edge of the Leaside Bridge, that caught Paul Burke’s attention as he was driving across, taking his wife to work. That seemed odd, and maybe there was something also about the girl’s shoulders, the way she was staring out at the emptiness.
Fleetingly, Burke thought she might be taking pictures, yet he’d spotted no camera.
… Instinct made Burke call 911, even as he went on his way.
Instinct made Burke call 911, even as he went on his way.
Within the hour, someone from the Toronto police department phoned him back. Her voice was emotional. “
The officer said, ‘Paul, I just wanted to let you know that the person you called about standing on the Leaside Bridge is fine. Your phone call saved her life.’” The officer added: “Lots of people saw her standing there but you called. Thank you for calling.”
That was this past Monday. The unknown girl on the bridge had jumping on her mind. Had she leapt, there would have been no chance for reconsideration, Leaside Bridge a magnet for ending it all since a suicide barrier was installed over the nearby Bloor St. Viaduct, to no statistical effect.
But this isn’t a story about sad, hopeless people with a compulsion for killing themselves. It’s about one individual who noticed and intervened — as small a gesture as calling 911, so that emergency responders could be dispatched and, on this occasion, tragedy averted.
By profession, Burke, 46, is a pastor with Church in the City, a downtown ministry. His vocation might make him more intuitive and reactive to emotional crises unfolding, yet that wasn’t what prompted his call. He was being, instead, a concerned citizen. “
It could have been nothing,” Burke said Thursday. “Or it could have been something. “I could make a call like that and 99 times out of 100 there would have been nothing to it. But I’ll keep making the calls.”
We all have a moral obligation to look out for one another.
This bears repeating, after the dreadful events early Tuesday morning, when a disoriented 66-year-old woman froze to death in Scarborough after wandering away from her home, her cries allegedly unheeded by some local residents. The lady suffered from dementia, had slipped out on the coldest night of the year, husband not noticing her absence at first and then driving around for an hour before reporting his wife’s disappearance to police.
It’s been claimed some residents ignored the confused woman’s cries for help as she scratched at a car window and perhaps even tried opening the sliding door at one house, seeking shelter.
I’m skeptical of this information; that plug-my-ears strangers had refused to get involved. In interviews with the Star, a couple of residents admitted hearing cries in the night but believed the sounds came from people having a quarrel. In any event, it would have been about 3 a.m., most folks sleeping, on a cul-de-sac where bedrooms are primarily on the back side of houses, with windows that don’t overlook the street.
On the evidence, I can’t indict a whole city — the town without pity, as some media outlets hysterically portrayed this regrettable incident — because nobody investigated the poor lady’s cries.
There are occasions of extraordinary heroism, when strangers come to one another’s critical aid. I have a brief news digest item here from a month ago, when a man racing to his dentist appointment saw a girl floating face-down in the Ottawa River. Not thinking twice, he scrambled down the embankment, pulled the 15-year-old out of the water and slapped her face a few times before she started breathing again.
Construction workers later said they’d noticed the teenager walking back and forth along the river bank, tearing up bits of paper and crying, before diving in.
That girl, taken to hospital with hypothermia, survived and now, presumably, I would hope, is receiving the mental health attention she clearly needs.
None of us can be sure how we’d respond in a crisis, especially involving strangers. Most of the time, however, bravery and risk aren’t required. We just have to give a damn, a bit. That’s the ethos of community and I believe Toronto still has it — not just in a display of compassion for the widow and young son of a fallen officer, as seen this week, but also for vulnerable strangers in our midst, broken people, the elderly, children . . . “
I think we all need to make a decision beforehand about how we would respond if we see somebody who might be in trouble or looks like they’re being harmed,” says Burke. “We should have it in our head — stop, call 911. It’s such a little thing to do. “
Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”
I don’t think there was evil afoot early Tuesday morning in that Scarborough neighbourhood. Inattention, perhaps, or suburban isolation, everyone stitched up in their little semi-detached houses, all snug in their beds.
That’s far from negligent or hear-no-evil.
Unlike the girl on the bridge, nobody was watching. Don’t jump to any other conclusions.
Originally published in the Toronto Star, Used with permission - Torstar Syndication Services.
Copyright © 2011 Christianity.ca.