After Vet Death, DC Bridge Could Have Suicide Barrier

Four months and 12 days after the death of her longtime partner, Chelsea Van Thof sat down and wrote to him.

“I realized today that fall is coming,” she wrote. “It means flannels. And flannels mean you. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this. »

She wrote about the shows he watched – ‘How am I supposed to watch the Haunting of Hill House again?’ – and a board game they were playing.

“None of this is correct,” she wrote. “How do people do that? How do people continue to live their lives? We should have moved to NH. We shouldn’t have come to DC. You would have been happier. We would have been closer to your family. There wouldn’t have been so many bridges to jump from.

On April 13, Dr. Peter Tripp, a 29-year-old veterinarian who has made a career of caring for animals and used to taking care of people, walked out of the couple’s apartment in northwest Washington. at the nearby William Howard Taft Bridge and jumped to his death.

Since then, Van Thof, who is also a veterinarian, has been mourning his loss and fighting to prevent more people from ending their lives in the same way. A website she created in his name features a grief diary that offers intimate glimpses into the life they lived together and the life she now lives without him. It also details his efforts to draw more attention to the high suicide rate among vets and his efforts to get a suicide barrier added to Taft Bridge.

“After diplomat Ben Read successfully put up a barrier on Ellington Bridge following the loss of his daughter in 1986, the Taft was supposed to be next,” the website says. He then notes that the bridge “remains unprotected, to this day.”

Van Thof said she believed Tripp would still be alive if the bridge had a barrier.

“I know he would be there,” she said. “That would have cut off the impulse.”

In a Washington Post article on Wednesday about suicides at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, my colleague William Wan wrote: “Decades of research have shown that netting and barriers are the single most effective measure against suicides on bridges. Due to the impulsive nature of many suicides, removing easy access greatly reduces the number of deaths.

A suicidal son, an iconic bridge, and the struggle to stop people from jumping

“In 2003, Toronto erected barriers at its deadliest bridge, which resulted in an average of nine suicides a year. In the decade that followed, suicides fell to almost zero, the article read. “When DC authorities put up fencing on the Duke Ellington Bridge, which crosses Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington, suicides went down 90% and jumps on nearby bridges did not increase.”

Van Thof was on the Ellington Bridge when she learned that Tripp had jumped off the Taft Bridge, which carries Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek and is located a few blocks from their apartment. She was asleep and woke up to their Dalmatian, Hugo, barking. Minutes later, she received a disturbing text from Tripp and went looking for her with a friend. They were searching the radius where his phone last rang when Van Thof looked through the suicide barrier on Ellington Bridge and saw the flashing lights of police cars under Taft Bridge.

“The next day, I was furious,” she recalls. “I was just mad that a bridge right next to an identical bridge didn’t have the same barrier. It’s like that this started.”

This is his effort to prevent the next person in crisis who finds himself standing on that bridge from taking an action that cannot be undone.

On Wednesday, a resolution in favor of a Taft Bridge barrier was passed by the Neighborhood Advisory Commissioners for the Adams Morgan Community. In June, a similar resolution was passed by the Neighborhood Advisory Commissioners for the Woodley Park community. Van Thof is now focused on gaining support from the DC Council and DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

If past efforts to get fencing and netting added to bridges across the country are any indication, the most vocal resistance will come from individuals and groups who don’t want views and aesthetics impaired by a barrier. These are valid concerns, but preserving lives trumps preserving landscapes. The country is in the midst of a known mental health crisis, and obstacles have been shown to reduce the number of suicide bridges.

The construction of a barrier over Taft – and other bridges – is long overdue. Van Thof also expressed support for the Suicide Barriers Act, which calls for a program to make it easier to install netting and barriers on structures across the country.

“Peter was the best person I’ve ever met,” she said, “and that’s what he would have done.”

They lost a friend by suicide. Now they are traveling 4,300 miles to help other struggling youth.

Van Thof and Tripp met while earning their doctorates in veterinary medicine at Tufts University. She dreamed of working with wildlife; he gravitated toward cows and other farm animals. As she tells it, it was just one of the many ways they were opposed.

She said they were best friends before they started dating. After graduating in 2019, the two lived and worked together in Oregon before moving to the district, where he worked for the Brookland District Veterinary Hospital and she worked temporarily for Lap of Love, which practices euthanasia at home, before starting a fellowship with the State Department.

An obituary of Tripp describes him as possessing a gentleness that made him wonderful with animals and a dependability that made him someone his fellow human beings relied on. He regularly donated platelets and bone marrow after receiving a call saying he was a match for someone in need.

“Those who love him are heartbroken that he was so adept at helping others, but was somehow incapable of asking for help for himself,” reads the obituary.

National suicide hotline moves to 988

Van Thof said she knew vets were at a much higher risk of committing suicide than the general population — male vets were said to be 2.1 times more likely and female vets 3.5 times more likely — but Tripp wouldn’t tell her. gave no indication that he was planning to end his life. . She said she only found out after his death that he had looked up the suicide hotline number but never called. She also discovered that on the day of his death, he had scheduled a future appointment to see a therapist.

In the bereavement diary entries that Van Thof posts online, she speaks directly to Tipp. On Thursday, she told him about the ANC vote.

“Your resolution passed in the other neighborhood by your bridge, babe,” she wrote. “Now it will go to the city council and the mayor. You will save lives, even if you couldn’t save yours. I couldn’t either. I think part of me thinks that if I advocate for suicide prevention hard enough, I’ll get another part of you back, whatever that means. Nothing will bring you back, however.

If you or someone you know needs help, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also reach a crisis counselor by sending a message to Crisis text line at 741741.