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From the author: This commentary contains sensitive content related to suicide, including mentions of a suicide location. Some may find this content distressing. Call or text 988 if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide.


My story of the loss of my daughter, Kayla Gaebel, begins and ends where too many lives have ended: the Washington Avenue Bridge at the University of Minnesota.

On Nov. 9, 2023, my 29-year-old daughter, a mom of two children, a fiancée and a member of our large and loving extended family, walked to the railing of the Washington Avenue Bridge and died by suicide.

The tragedy of suicide at the Washington Avenue Bridge is not new. It is estimated that two to five people die by suicide at this bridge every year.

The pedestrian portion of the Washington Avenue Bridge opened in 1965, meaning it is possible that anywhere from 118 to 300 people have died by suicide at this bridge in the past 59 years.

This bridge is known by law enforcement as the most dangerous bridge on the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities when it comes to suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. At the U, 70% of the student body fits this age demographic.

As I said, the tragedy of suicide at this bridge is not new — nor has there been a lack of effort to get the U and others to address the need to install protective measures to deter suicide on this bridge.

Claims of a lack of funding and complaints over damaging the "viewscape" of the river with suicide prevention barriers and deterrents resulted in a failure to act.

And lives, like Kayla's, continue to be lost.

Over the past two months, I, along with my sister, Gina, our friend in suicide loss, Brittani, staff and board members of SAVE-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, and a growing army of friends and family have been meeting with state legislators and U officials to send a very simple message: Fix this bridge. Install suicide prevention barriers and deterrents now. Do not let another life be lost by failing to protect human life.

Research shows that suicide prevention barriers and deterrents save lives. In 2017, the St. Paul High Bridge was rebuilt, adding significantly higher railings and other features that have decreased suicide on this bridge to nearly zero.

The same type of railing strategy can, and must, be erected on the Washington Avenue Bridge at the U.

U officials, including the office of the president, have assured me and the army we call "Kayla's Hope" that they are committed to installing suicide prevention barriers and deterrents on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

We have also been asking legislators to pass a bonding bill this year that will provide the U with the $15 million they have requested for the Washington Avenue Bridge improvements — and to make it nonnegotiable that the U install best practices suicide prevention barriers and deterrents.

I am not a politician, a lobbyist or someone familiar with the power structure of government. I am a mom. A mom who lost a part of her life when my daughter took her life on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

My battle to secure funding for these barriers is my promise to Kayla that no other person will lose their life to a bridge that we know can be made safer.

Before Kayla's death, I did not know of the dangers of the Washington Avenue Bridge. Those who have lost loved ones before Kayla knew. And so did the University of Minnesota.

Now you know the dangers.

I hope you will call upon your state senator and representative and urge them to pass a bonding bill supporting the needs of the U, including $15 million for improvements to the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Ask them to insist that any funds appropriated to the university will require the installation of suicide prevention barriers on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Suicide is preventable. Suicide on the Washington Avenue Bridge is preventable.

And your voice can help save a life. That is my hope.

That is Kayla's Hope.

MJ Weiss, of Inver Grove Heights, is registered nurse.