The City of Madison employee knew she must hang on, if she was to save the despondent woman's life. But she was also fearful: for if the woman did jump, she was likely to go with her. If that happened both would tumble an estimated 70 feet onto a concrete bike path below.
The chaotic scene was unfolding on an otherwise beautiful Monday, just prior to the lunch hour.
Many others were on the Monona Terrace rooftop, taking in views of Lake Monona while enjoying freshly planted spring flowers. Piercing the tranquility were the employee's cries for help. It wasn't a businessperson having lunch, or a tourist appreciating all that is Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture, that came running. No, it was a Good Samaritan named James, who happens to be homeless.
He saw the woman on the rail, trying to jump. He could also see the other woman, right behind the first, desperately hanging on; hanging on with all the strength she could muster. James, age 46, could hear screaming: "Let me go! Let me go!"
He ran to both and helped grab onto the first, as she continued to shout: "I have nothing to live for! I'm not worth it! Working in concert, James and the city employee pulled the woman to the ground. Then, with the help of arriving officers, she was placed on a chair. A witness, who called 911, said it was clear the duo had saved a life.
One of two MPD officers, who were now on scene, immediately recognized James as one of the men currently living downtown. The officers, James, and the city employee worked to comfort and contain the distraught woman, holding and hugging her, keeping her seated. She was still trying to break free, still wanting to jump.
A MPD lieutenant brought a wheelchair to the roof, and that was used to get the woman to a safe place.
The officer, who knew the homeless man, told him what a great and heroic thing he had done. She told him someday the woman would thank him, and thank the city employee too.
At the same moment, the city employee was explaining, to the other officer, that the woman had come to her Community Development Authority office. The visitor was upset about her family possibly being evicted. The concerned employee sensed something was very wrong. The woman kept saying, "I'll leave, I'll just go away." The city worker followed her out of the Madison Municipal building, and trailed behind as the woman walked up a Monona Terrace rooftop ramp. The city employee had a gut feeling things were about to get much worse, and she was right. The woman moved to a rail, clutched it with her hands, put a foot up, and was about to jump. That was when the employee decided to act fast. She knew she could not bring the woman back from the brink by herself. She just hoped - as she yelled for help and bear hugged the woman from behind - that someone would hear her pleas. A homeless man named James did.