PHOTO: Railings spanning 1,572 feet across the Natchez Trace Bridge are precariously low./Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
A Spring Hill woman who lost her teenage son to suicide from the Natchez Trace Bridge has formed a coalition to install barriers along the structure.
According to a public information request Merelo made, 12 of the suicides occurred in the past three years. The most recent was this past Sunday.
When she heard about that death, “I was furious,” said Merelo, who made live the coalition’s Facebook page on Monday morning.
Merelo is spearheading the movement with the help of Sarah Elmer, a young social worker who lost both her sister and a friend at the bridge.
The duo were connected through the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network’s Executive Director Scott Ridgway.
In terms of affecting change at the bridge, “It’s a lot harder to do it by yourself,” Elmer said.
In September, Merelo and Elmer attended a screening of “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” the story of Kevin Hines’ suicide attempt from the Golden Gate Bridge.
After the movie, Merelo shared her experience and said others in the audience spoke about similar losses of loved ones at the bridge.
Hines publicly offered his support, and audience members also asked how they could help.
“It did feel that night was a bit of a game changer,” she said, which “moved the ball down the field.”
Elmer and Merelo are also in contact with Paul Muller, the president of the Bridge Rail Foundation, which successfully lobbied for barriers at the Golden Gate Bridge, also a National Park Service designated area.
Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, which is on land owned by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, the Natchez Trace Bridge is on federal land, which politicians and park representatives say make changes difficult.
Park representatives also say detracting from the aesthetic quality of the bridge is a concern.
“There’s no more iconic bridge than the Golden Gate,” Merelo said, “and once San Francisco approved those barriers on the most beautiful and iconic bridge in the world, it took the aesthetic argument off the table.”
Merelo hopes the coalition will draw families and friends of loved ones lost at the bridge, and she plans to begin lobbying political representatives for change after the midterm elections draw to a close.
“The end goal is to get a barrier up,” said Elmer, who acknowledges it’s a big step.
“I just don’t want someone to go through what I did,” she said. “Having a sheriff come to your door, knock on it and let you know your loved one is gone. It’s pretty eye-opening.”
“We need to show it’s not just a couple of us realizing this is a problem,” Merelo said.
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