RICHMOND, Va. - April 15, 2018, started out the same way that many others had for Richmond Police Officers Daniel Raines and Aaron Henning, then they saved a man from taking his own life.
They started their patrol at about 5 a.m.
“It was a Sunday, so we thought it was going to be kind of a slow day,” said Henning, but things sped up just an hour later.
“A call came in for a possible jumper on the bridge,” said Raines.
The six-lane Robert E. Lee Bridge connects downtown Richmond to the southside. Whether you’re high above or down below, it can provide spectacular views of the James River. But the Lee Bridge also has a dark side.
Over the years the bridge has attracted several men and women with thoughts of suicide.
It happened again this past spring when an off-duty firefighter was driving home when he spotted a man who looked like he was preparing to jump.
He called police and Raines and Henning were sent to the scene. The officers shut down the lanes to oncoming traffic and walked towards the man.
“You could definitely tell he was in distress, crying, visibly upset,” said Raines. “He allowed us to get pretty close."
WTVR obtained body-camera video showing the officers start talking to him. They learned he was suffering. not just emotionally but physically as well.
“He stated that he had just walked out of MCV and walked right to the bridge… had suffered from seizures all his life,” said Raines. “He had I think his grandmother or his mother had passed away... Nobody pretty much there for him anymore.”
To the officers, it was clear the man had made up his mind.
“This guy’s on the opposite side of the railing, that's the furthest I’ve seen somebody,” said Raines.
“That was definitely the 'oh crap' moment,” said Henning. They knew a jump would almost certainly be fatal.
“It was probably maybe two foot of water, or so because you could see the rocks,” said Raines. “I mean, it’s a good long drop, and he’s not going to walk away from that.”
They decided to act even though they knew they were putting their own safety at risk.
“Our priority was to save this guy’s life,” said Henning.
“You’re not thinking about yourself at that point,” Raines added.
In the body-camera video, officer Henning silently orchestrated the rescue plan, motioning with his hands to both officer Raines and the firefighter as to how they are going to grab the man.
“I looked at both of them, we’re like, the conversation ain’t going nowhere, made a nod," recalled Henning. "Sure enough, in sync all three of us, the firefighter grabbed him from behind, me and him both put our arms out and pulled him over."
"We gotcha buddy, we gotcha okay," the officer can be heard saying on the video.
In just two and a half minutes, it was all over. The officers took the man to Richmond Community Hospital, where he was voluntarily committed. After that, it was back to work.
“We literally were at the hospital for maybe like four hours or so and we literally came right back and started running calls… Again... So yeah, it’s just another day, another call, and calls never stop,” said Raines.
The memories of that day haven’t stopped either. Fortunately, the officers have a lot of support, both on the job and at home.
“I don't think about it, really, like, what could have happened until after, then that’s when it hits you,” said Raines. “My wife’s a therapist. So it allows me to decompress and I can tell her pretty much anything."
And a sense of humor keeps the bond between these partners strong, especially during tough times.
“My wife’s not a therapist so I talk to his wife,” Henning said with a laugh.
Because of their bravery, Raines and Henning were recognized at this year’s Valor Awards, a ceremony that honors the heroism of police and first responders.
Each received a bronze award for going above and beyond the call of duty that day. High above the James River, they gave a second chance to a man who had almost hit rock bottom.
Both officers say they're appreciative of the awards, but they don't do their jobs to get recognized.
"There’s a lot of officers that do things on a daily basis that are just as good if not better than what we did that day, and the public will never know about it,” said Henning and Raines.
That day on the bridge, the officers say they relied heavily on the Crisis Intervention Training they have received. That focuses on de-escalating encounters with people suffering from mental health emergencies.
WTVR has not been able to identify the man who tried to jump. Henning and Raines say they haven’t seen him since, but hope he is doing better.