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Minnesota police chief helps save woman ready to jump off bridge

ST. PAUL—As a woman sat on the ledge of a St. Paul bridge Tuesday, the city's police chief worked with another officer to pull her to safety.

Todd Axtell just left breakfast and was heading to police headquarters about 8:30 a.m. when he heard a call dispatched about a woman getting ready to jump from the Robert Street Bridge.

He was about two blocks away and he headed to the bridge.

"It breaks your heart to see people struggling with depression and it's so rewarding to know that our officers, the guardians of St. Paul, were there to help this woman," Axtell said Tuesday. "The sad part is our officers do this frequently and oftentimes the recognition isn't there."

Axtell found Officer Frank Judge talking to the woman, whose back was to him as she faced the river, and Officer Gao Vang monitoring the situation a few steps back.

The police chief, who rose up through the ranks after joining the department in 1989, was previously a member of the crisis negotiation team.

Axtell said he made eye contact with Judge and nodded his head to "communicate that it was time and safe to pull her to safety," and they worked together to do so.

On the ground, Axtell said he held the woman to comfort her, "like I would if she was my child." He could tell the woman, who turned out to be 25, was close in his age to his own daughter.

"I told her that we were there to help her, we care a lot about her and we're going to make sure that she gets the help she needs," Axtell said.

They escorted her to a squad car to get her to the hospital.

Axtell has lended a hand on the street since becoming police chief. In February 2017, as he was heading to work, he witnessed a domestic assault and detained the suspect.

But Tuesday was the first time in Axtell's career that he pulled someone to safety from a bridge.

"I think this really highlights the need for all of us to recognize that people struggling with depression need help and resources," Axtell said. "When we can pitch in and get people the resources they need to get them in a better spot, we're all better off."

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' Minnesota chapter, wants people to know suicide is preventable.

"If people are experiencing some symptoms, they should reach out and seek help," Abderholden said.

For help

The National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) will route people to the nearest crisis center. Information is available at save.org.

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