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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nashua police investigate second Black Bridge suicide in 3 weeks

NASHUA – Just three weeks ago, police were at the same spot, looking at the same scene.

Along the steep, frozen banks of the Nashua River, police gathered on an old railroad trestle known as the “Black Bridge,” peering between the tracks and seeing a young man, dead, hanging from the bridge. ...

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NASHUA – Just three weeks ago, police were at the same spot, looking at the same scene.

Along the steep, frozen banks of the Nashua River, police gathered on an old railroad trestle known as the “Black Bridge,” peering between the tracks and seeing a young man, dead, hanging from the bridge.

Both times it was on a Wednesday, and in both cases, it was early afternoon when police responded.

The results were also the same: a young life forfeited.

“Whether or not the people are connected, a copy cat suicide can happen just from knowledge of the person themselves or two accounts or depictions of the suicide on TV or in the media,” said Dr. Cynthia Whitaker, a psychologist and director of the Adult Outpatient program at Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, “so it’s kind of the emulation of another
suicide that the person attempting knows about.”

***

Three weeks ago, it was 21-year-old Nashua resident Nicholas Seminatore, who was found hanging from the bridge by a guitar strap. The man who was found dead Wednesday has yet to be identified by police; they said they needed to notify his family and contact the state medical examiner’s office.

Nashua Police Lt. Mike Moushegian said police were dispatched to the area of the bridge, which crosses the Nashua River just west of the Merrimack River on Wednesday after the department received a letter in the mail indicating a suicide had taken place, or was about to, at the bridge.

Moushegian didn’t say whether the suicide letter was signed or, if so, who signed it, but he did say police believe the individual who wrote it is the man who hanged himself.

“The contents of the letter indicated we might find him here,” Moushegian said, referring to the bridge.

***

Police are exploring any connection between the two nearly identical events. Experts said it’s not uncommon for suicides to be linked, though not in the way police are investigating.

Ken Norton, executive director at National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire, said simply knowing someone who commits suicide increases a person’s own risk of doing the same.

“One of the aspects about suicide is, even though it’s a relatively rare event, when we know someone who’s died by suicide, we become statistically at increased risk for suicide ourselves,” he said. “The loved ones, friends, colleagues, of that first person that died by suicide are at an increased risk, and that’s an important aspect of suicide prevention, how you to respond to a suicide death and making sure there are some activities that promote healing or reduce risk.”

But simply knowing or loving someone who committed suicide recently does not necessarily explain all the reasons that another person might take his or her life. He pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. He said “there’s usually a number of factors that appear that may not be evident at first blush.”

Particularly when a public hanging happens, Whitaker said, the community ought to be more watchful of others at-risk of suicide.

“Whether or not the people are connected, a copy cat suicide can happen just from knowledge of the person themselves or two accounts or depictions of the suicide on TV or in the media,” Whittaker said, “so it’s kind of the emulation of another suicide that the person attempting knows about.”

The Washington Post reported in November that the rise in U.S. suicides from 2000-10 is largely attributable to an increase in hangings and suffocations, particularly among men and women ages 45 to 59, although suicide by firearm continues to account for the majority of suicides.

Suicide by hanging or suffocation increased from 19 percent of all suicides in 2000 to 26 percent of all suicides in 2010, the Post found.

Hangings, by nature, are more public if they happen in a public place and can therefore trigger similar incidences, Whitaker said, and also as they tend to be seen as a more “viable” option if a person is serious about taking his or her life.

“People try to kill themselves everyday by overdosing but it doesn’t make the paper,” Whitaker said. “Someone hangs themselves from a bridge in a community, it makes the paper. Not only is it something that leads to death more, but it’s also something that gets publicized more.”

But just because successful suicide attempts are publicized, that also doesn’t mean that all people suffering from suicidal thoughts follow through them, Norton said.

“Most folks that contemplate it get help,” Norton said. “It’s a myth that you can’t really stop somebody who’s intent on killing themselves because research indicates they’re very ambivalent about living in that moment and are also ambivalent about dying. The majority of people who ever consider suicide are people who go on to get help and are able to cope with whatever’s going on in that moment and to recover and go on to lead their life the way they had been.”

One way to prevent similar suicides at “Black Bridge” specifically might be to post the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number there – 800-273-8255 – Whitaker said.

***

Police continue to investigate Wednesday’s death. Nashua firefighters brought in the department’s four-wheel drive forestry truck to negotiate the snow, ice and mud along the riverbank and act as an anchor point for ropes they used to lower police and rescue crews to where the body was.

The first to be lowered was a police photographer, who documented the scene before firefighters began the process of releasing the body and inching it up the steep bank for transport to a local funeral home.

Firefighters cleared the scene around 5:20 p.m., roughly 21⁄2 hours after they and police were summoned.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS). Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com.