Middle School Volleyball Team Helps Save Suicidal Woman on Bridge: 'Your Life Matters!'
A group of middle school volleyball players is being hailed as heroes after they intervened to help save the life of a suicidal woman.
The Kepler Neighborhood School in Fresno, California, said members of its volleyball team were warming up for practice on Thursday when they noticed the woman on the edge of a bridge.
One student, 12-year-old Branden Ezell, told NBC News that the woman at first waved to them — but that the situation quickly turned.
“We’re walking up and she waves at us, so we wave back,” he recalled. “And by the time we looked away and then look back up, she’s already hanging off — like, full-on hanging off, just one arm holding her up.”
The boys alerted their coach, Elliott Murray, who called 911 and quickly encouraged them to return and do their best to talk the woman into lifting herself back to safety.
“I said, ‘Immediately, go back up and get her attention. Tell her her life matters,’” Murray told Today. “So for a whole 10 minutes or so, they did not stop yelling, screaming, telling her, ‘Your life matters!’”
A spokesperson for the Fresno Police Department confirmed to PEOPLE that officers were dispatched to a report of a suicidal woman on Thursday. The woman was taken to a mental health facility for a 72-hour evaluation after officers determined she was a danger to herself, police said.
“She took a glance and hearing those kids, it registered to her, ‘I can’t do this in front of them,'” Murray told KFSN.
The coach said he was “very proud” of his team for their good deed.
“I’m like a father to them, so to see them do the things that I instilled in them is so gratifying as a coach and as a father figure to them,” he told Today. “I’m very proud of them.”
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Elijah Gomez is thankful he was able to make a difference with the help of his friends.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment,” he told the outlet. “And then what was best about it, I know we saved a woman’s life, but I’m proud that I was able to do it with my brothers.”
Timothy Yeager, Kepler School’s director of student services, praised the boys in a statement shared to Facebook, writing, “These young men stepped up when no one else could. Words fail to do justice how incredibly proud we are of these Kepler scholars and Coach Elliott’s leadership.”
The Fresno Police Department also had kind words for the students.
“Their words of encouragement caused this woman to realize her life value,” the department said in a statement to Today. “Thank god they were in the right place at the right time.”
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and director of Innovation360, an outpatient resource center, told PEOPLE that “There are a lot of takeaways here. What they did was that they connected with her and made that personal connection by talking to her. That is disruptive in a lifesaving way.”
Along with that personal connection, Dr. Gilliland said it was also “very important that the coach acted immediately and got professional help. When someone tells you that they’re thinking about it [ending their life] and they’re serious, we have to act quickly.”
He also thinks that it’s important for the young boys to talk about what they experienced.
“It was highly emotional event that was also incredibly fearful,” he said. “Talking through it and making sense of it is important. Having a good conversation is probably the best medicine.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.