An off-duty Fredericksburg, Virginia, sheriff’s lieutenant was on her way home from a holiday event dressed as Mrs. Claus one night when she stopped to save a woman from taking her own life by jumping off a bridge.
According to the Fredericksburg Sheriff’s Office, Lieutenant T. Merrell was driving home after attending the annual Public Safety Santa Run on the evening of December 14 when the fateful encounter took place.
The lieutenant was still wearing the Mrs. Claus outfit that she wore for the event — complete with dress, boots, glasses and white wig — when she glimpsed a woman dressed in white standing on the railing of the Falmouth Bridge. Merrell knew something was suspicious about the woman and turned around, only to find her with one leg hanging over the edge. She then called for assistance on her police radio and began to de-escalate the situation.
“I saw that she had one leg over, and she had her whole upper body over,” Merrell recalled to NBC News4. “So I activated my emergency equipment, I got on the radio and I notified dispatch that I was still in costume and I needed some uniformed officers out there to assist.”
Fredericksburg Police Patrol Sergeant A. Lynch, who was also on his way home from the event, arrived soon after to assist Merrell, and together they helped the woman off the bridge.
It was clear to both officers that the woman was in the grips of a mental health crisis.
“In that moment, I just knew that she was in crisis, and needed someone there for her, and just trying to give her a reassuring voice and a calm voice, letting her know that she’s OK and we were there for her,” Lynch said.
The 25-year-old woman was eventually transported to a nearby hospital and provided with mental health treatment.
“The most amazing part of this story is that Lieutenant Merrell and Sergeant Lynch typically take a different route home,” Fredericksburg Police Chief Brian Layton said in a media release. “Call it divine intervention or fate, I truly believe these officers were meant to take the route they did and help save this woman’s life. I applaud them both for flawlessly utilizing their crisis intervention skills.”
“I’m very grateful that we were there, at that time. That’s not my normal way home. I never go that way home, so I think we were there for a reason,” Merrell explained.
Sheriff Scott Foster called the incident a “true Christmas miracle.”