***If you got here via a sticker, here’s the TL;DR:***

10/25/23 UPDATE

Wow, life is crazy and difficult and totally worth living. Finding more bandwidth for bridge advocacy as things have started to progress since my last update in June.

After being passed by the Commission of Fine Arts, the bridge barrier design is now on the Historical Preservations Review Board agenda for 10/26 (TOMORROW). The staff report recommends they approve the concept that CFA did and allow the staff to continue to review in the future to move this along without further delay. This is great news! However, the staff did not go so far as to recommend it be on consent at this meeting so there will still be a presentation and the board will deliberate and decide. That being said, the commissioner is confident that the design concept will be approved.

Click HERE for previous updates.

Over the last 12 years there have been 13 suicides on the Taft Bridge, equating to half of all bridge-related suicides in the District over that time.

My 29-year-old partner, Dr. Peter Tripp, jumped off the Taft Bridge on April 13th, 2022. He had no voiced history of depression or mental illness. One day, he was the Peter I knew, and then the next day, he was the Peter that decided jumping off a bridge was better than staying in the pain he was in. And mental health was far from stigmatized in our little family.

After losing Peter, the only thing that brings me comfort is advocacy. Advocacy for fighting the suicide crisis in veterinary medicine, for men’s mental health, and for a suicide barrier on the Taft Bridge.

The Ellington Bridge, right next to the Taft Bridge, had a barrier installed in the ’80s. The Ellington, once known as DC’s “suicide bridge” has killed less people in the 35 years since the barrier was implemented, than in the week Mayor Barry stopped construction of the barrier, at the behest of a lone city council member. A barrier does not have to mean a fence. It can also be a net, like the one on the Golden Gate Bridge. That being said, the barrier on the identical bridge next to the Taft is not solid and does not block views. The one on the Ellington Bridge is 8-ft-high with spaced-out bars, and light green. You do not notice the difference in the two bridges until someone points in out. This is the barrier I was looking through when I first saw the police lights under the Taft Bridge, where I would soon learn Peter had killed himself.

Ellington Bridge Barrier
Golden Gate Bridge Barrier

Two identical bridges in width, height, and location. Only one has a proven, life-saving measure to stop facilitating the deaths of people struggling and in need of compassion. Suicide is not selfish because it is not a choice made by someone of sound mind. People who kill themselves do not feel in control. A barrier would not have stopped Peter from being suicidal, but it would have given the people who loved him more time to try to get him the help he so desperately needed.

My name is Chelsea Van Thof. You are my community members, my friends and neighbors. You were Peter’s, too. If moved to do so, please lend me your support in savings lives, and preventing anyone else from feeling the pain caused by losing a loved one to suicide.

Click HERE to learn how you can help or contact me here: cvtdvm@outlook.com.

Scroll down for the original open letter advocating for the Taft Bridge suicide barrier and updates.

Click HERE to learn more about Peter and the amazing human he was.

Click HERE to view media coverage on the barrier.

To Whom It May Concern:

On the night of April 13, 2022, my long-term partner, my teammate in this game we call life, my best friend- Dr. Peter Tripp- killed himself by jumping off the William Howard Taft Bridge. He was 29-years-old. His senseless and untimely death came as a complete shock to all who knew and loved him. 

During my search for Peter, that night, I first spotted the police under the Taft Bridge through the bars of the suicide barrier on the Ellington Bridge. A jogger had found him, the police found the jogger, and I found the police. Peter had left the house with an old license, but the police weren’t able to identify him from it. I wanted to see him, to confirm his identity, but they wouldn’t let me. The policeman keeping me from getting closer to him said I should remember him how he was…I can only imagine how battered Peter must have been, how distorted he must have looked. I’ll never know if I should be grateful for this “small mercy” the policeman thought he was giving me.

This is just one of many questions that will never be answered. Questions I shouldn’t have to ask. 

After diplomat Ben Read successfully implemented a barrier on the Ellington Bridge in the wake of losing his daughter in 1986, the Taft was supposed to be next. However, with elections looming, Mayor Marion Barry halted the completion of the Taft Bridge barrier, and it remains unprotected, to this day. 

I know Peter’s decision to take his own life was impulsive. The majority of suicide attempts are. Since adding the suicide barrier to the Ellington in 1987, only two people have successfully scaled it and jumped to their deaths. Many argued that with the Ellington barrier in place, the suicide rate on the Taft would increase, but it did not. The overall suicide rate in DC has actually steadily declined since that time. This evidence speaks to studies showing that barriers are an effective way of preventing suicide by bridge-jumping. It cuts through the impulse, and it does not increase attempts on surrounding bridges. Peter may very well still be here, today, if Mayor Barry had not abruptly halted barrier implementation on the Taft, in favor of playing politics. 

Peter was the best person I’ve ever met. He would have been the best person you have ever met, too, if given the chance. I will spend the rest of my life trying to keep the world as good of a place as it would be if he was still in it. With the help of Commissioner Janell Pagats, I hope to honor Peter’s memory and save lives by advocating for implementing a suicide barrier on the Taft Bridge and any other DC bridge at risk of killing another person who is in pain and suffering, both locally and through the Barriers to Suicide Act. Another suicide attempt occurred on the Taft just one month after Peter died. I will never stop working toward this goal. DC Councilmembers for Wards 1-3, where the Taft Bridge is located, will be drafting a resolution to implement suicide barriers on the Taft and nearby Klingle at the next ANC3C meeting. Please help show your support by attending this virtual meeting on June 22nd at 7:30 PM. Check back in this week for the link to join.

With Gratitude,

Chelsea & Hugo Spots the Dalmatian