St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and another officer grabbed a suicidal woman from the ledge of a bridge over the Mississippi River before she could jump Tuesday morning.
The rescue, captured by a city video camera perched high on the Robert Street Bridge, played out about 8:30 a.m. as morning commuters rolled by.
Axtell said he had just finished breakfast, was on his way to headquarters and was two blocks from the scene when he heard the dispatch call over the radio about “a lady in distress” on the bridge’s ledge.
The chief soon joined officers Frank Judge and Gao Vang, who were keeping a close watch on the woman as she sat facing east.
The chief quietly walked up, and it wasn’t long before he gave Judge a silent nod, and they pulled the woman backward off the ledge.
Axtell held her as Vang consoled the woman and stroked her hair.
“She was distraught, and we were trying our best to calm her and let her know everything is OK,” Axtell said.
The chief said “these are the human moments that we all have and make us connect at a human level. ...
“All you can do is hold them when they come off that ledge.”
Police spokesman Steve Linders said the woman was “taken to the hospital to get the help she needs.”
A nearly identical scenario played out last August on the same bridge, when a city district fire chief bear-hugged a woman in her early 20s and pulled her off the ledge as two police officers assisted.
Axtell said this rescue was getting attention in large part because of his rank and that it had been captured on video. He wanted to make sure the public realizes “our officers do this type of work routinely ... as the guardians of St. Paul.”
Axtell, who came up through the ranks starting as a patrol officer in 1989 and became chief in mid-2016, was also pressed into unexpected duty one weekday morning in February 2017, when he saw a man attacking a woman on the sidewalk on Broadway Street a few blocks from police headquarters.
The chief identified himself and detained the suspect until two other officers arrived and handcuffed him.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482