A few minutes before the 10pm newscast started on a night in January I answered the phone and found myself talking to a woman threatening suicide.

The call didn’t start out that way. The caller wanted to leave a tip about a story we had tried to work in November. I could tell she was very upset and her story sounded…well, honestly, crazy. I have taken many conspiracy theory calls, calls from people claiming to have been implanted with a microchip by the government, and yes, even calls from a guy who said, “God here” when you answered the phone. Normally I see how insane the call is going to sound before I find a way to end the conversation.

This night though I stuck with the call because the woman was talking about an incident we had tried to confirm and work back in November. I wouldn’t call her hysterical but she wasn’t making any sense and was crying. When she finished her story I asked for her contact information so the reporter who had first worked the story could call her back. This is when the call became a suicide call.

“No!” she exclaimed. “I’m calling you to tell you my side of the story and I can’t take it anymore. Tonight I’m going to kill myself, but at least now you have my story and can put it on the news.”

My heart picked up pace as I thought of any way to keep this woman on the phone while I called for help. Because I knew where the incident had taken place, I guessed she was calling from somewhere in that county. I decided to call Boulder County dispatch.

I have no idea if what I did was right, but I outright lied to the caller. I asked if she’d hold so she could talk to a reporter who would be coming in the newsroom in a couple of minutes. She agreed to this. I put her on hold and then called dispatch.

I explained to the dispatcher was going on with the call. I told him what I could. From our conversation I had her first name. From caller ID I had her phone number. He told me someone else had called concerned about the woman but they weren’t able to track her down. He asked me to talk to her more about her story to keep her talking while he checked the phone number I had and talked to deputies in the field.

There are two phones on the news desk so I literally had both receivers to my ears as I talked to her and listened to the dispatcher. I had told the dispatcher I’d kept her on the phone under the ruse that I was finding a reporter. Eventually he told me to tell her I was transferring her to the reporter and that she needed to stay on the line to talk to the reporter. I did. Then he had me transfer her to him. I did.

That was it. I hung up both phones shaking a bit and hoping I’d done the right thing and that the woman would get help. On my way home from work a coworker called to tell me an officer with the CU Police had called for me. Once I got home I called the officer back.

He explained that they had received the call to help this woman and had found her, safe. He asked me to go over all the details again so he could understand what had happened. From what I understand CU Police had been called by Boulder Police, who had been called by the Boulder Sheriff Department. I’m not sure, but it sounds like through the phone number I was able to give them, they were able to track down her location. She must have been somewhere on the CU campus for the CU Police to be involved, but I didn’t ask.

The officer thanked me and asked if he could call again if needed. Then it was really over for me. I didn’t receive any more calls. I hope the woman is okay.
This is not the first suicide threat I’ve taken. I have taken other calls, and the news desk has received not only emails that talk of suicide, but emails that are outright death threats against others – and, no not one threat has been made against any of my coworkers. In each case I contact the proper police or sheriff department.

I know these numbers by heart and am able to just dial. Should I be calling some other number, like a suicide prevention number? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never been trained in how best to handle these situations. I’ve always gone with instinct.

Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado