AGOURA HILLS, Calif. — Jen Principe and Toni Musso were stuck in traffic in Agoura Hills, California last month when they spotted a man on the ledge of a highway overpass.
“Oh my God, is that guy gonna jump off the bridge?” Musso remembers saying. The man had climbed on the outside of the chain-link fence barrier. He was making his way toward the center of the bridge over a busy road below, according to Musso. They immediately called 911, and then began to drive off as the traffic cleared.
Then, Principe remembered a video she had watched two days earlier.
“(It) just came back to me and I said, ‘We have to turn back. We have to go back,'” Principe told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” in an interview that aired Wednesday.
She had seen the story of Kevin Hines, the man who survived a suicide attempt off the Golden Gate Bridge when he was 19 years old. Hines said he felt instant regret after he jumped and he’s now dedicated his life to suicide prevention. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently profiled Hines as part of CNN’s “Champions For Change” series.
“That’s the one thing that really stuck with me … Kevin Hines saying that had anybody been nice to him, anybody tried to stop him, that this wouldn’t have happened,” Principe said.
Musso’s husband, who was driving when they spotted the man on the overpass, immediately took the next exit and looped around. When they got back to the overpass, he pulled over and the two women jumped out of the backseat and immediately headed across the busy freeway, straight toward the man.
“We stopped the cars, we ran across, and there he was, just all the way in the center … of that freeway overpass,” Principe said. “We looked at him and the first thing we said is, you know, ‘We love you, please don’t jump.'”
‘I’ve been sent as your guardian’
As they waited for police to arrive, Toni Musso said she talked to the man and listened to him.
“He said he had nothing to live for, and he had no reason to be here on earth anymore,” Musso told CNN’s Camerota. “I kind of locked eyes with him and just said, ‘I’m here for you, I’ve been sent as your guardian. I need you to listen to me. Just look at me and listen to my words.'”
Principe’s husband recorded video of the encounter on his cell phone. Musso can be seen putting her hands on the fence as she offered words of encouragement and support. At one point, Musso said she thought he was going to fall back and let go.
“When I really thought he was going to jump, I said, ‘You know, imagine what could happen to the people below, you’re not only going to hurt yourself but potentially there’s a family in a car, and the two of us have to witness this horrible, horrific act,'” Musso said. “‘If you can just get through today, tomorrow might be a little different, you might feel different, you may not have wanted to do this. You just gotta give yourself one more day. Just give me one more day with you and I promise I’ll stay with you.'”
Finally, she said the man agreed and started making his way off of the overpass. That’s when the police arrived.
“When the police came, he got very startled and at that point he said, ‘They’re going to arrest me.’ And I said, ‘I won’t let them do that. Just stay with me,'” Musso said she told him.
A ripple effect
Two police officers arrived, prompting the man to take his eyes off of Musso. That’s when “he got very uncomfortable,” Principe recalled.
“The police came up and we said ‘You need to leave us alone’ … They said ‘You guys got this. You got this,’ which is fascinating that that happened,” she said.
At that point, Musso said she told the man to keep his eyes on her.
“I said, ‘Just don’t look back. Just keep looking at me and keep walking with me. I’m here with you and I’m not going to let you go.’ And I continued to walk off the bridge with him,” Musso said.
As the man made his way off of the highway overpass, police took him into custody Musso said. She said she regrets not being able to hug him afterward, something police wouldn’t allow because of safety concerns. But Principe said that he did thank the two women before he was taken away.
CNN reached out to the Agoura Hills city manager who confirmed the incident and said that the man was taken to a hospital for observation but could not provide any more details.
The two women hope their story will inspire others to take action if they suspect someone might be suicidal. Principe has set up a link at the top of her Instagram page to help raise money for suicide prevention. It’s an issue that’s personal to her having lost a family member to suicide five years ago.
“I have gone through what suicide and mental illness looks like,” Principe said. “So yes, this really hit home for me.”
She believes she and Musso were destined to be there for the man, whose name they don’t know but they hope to meet again.
“Had we not gotten behind those cars all day long and been slowed down, we would have literally missed it by seconds,” Principe said. “I feel grateful that we’re here and we’re able to even share this story because it is a ripple effect.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.