How This Man Used Kind Words—and Quick Actions—to Save a Stranger from Ending It All

Updated: Oct. 24, 2022

His quick thinking—and compassion—helped convince a distraught woman not to end it all

It was 11 p.m. when Alex Conrad saw the woman on the Main Street Bridge. She was standing by the railing, peering down at the rushing Chippewa River below. At her feet was what appeared to be a backpack.

Maybe she’s fishing, Conrad, then 20, thought as he continued driving his Mustang to his home a short distance away. His friend’s car had broken down, so Conrad was making a quick stop to grab some tools ­before heading out to help.

Tools in hand, he climbed into his car. Instead of taking a shortcut, though, he opted to head back over the bridge. Something about that woman didn’t sit right. Why would she be fishing this late at night—in May, when it’s still cold in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin?

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Checking on the woman on the bridge

As he crossed the quarter-mile-long bridge, Conrad saw the woman standing in the same spot. He pulled a U-turn and parked on a diagonal some 20 feet away with his hazards flashing, blocking one of the four lanes. In case there was trouble, he hoped another driver would take note and help.

He stepped out of his car and got a clearer picture of the scene. The woman was in her 20s, dressed in pants and a heavy coat. What he’d thought was a backpack was in fact rope pooled by her feet. One end was tied to a bridge post. The other, around her neck.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Conrad called out. He didn’t acknowledge the rope because he didn’t want to let on that he knew exactly what was going on.

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She spoke reticently, but he kept probing, eventually pulling from her that she was going through a particularly rough patch. She was jobless, not doing well in school—in short, life wasn’t working out as she’d hoped.

“Not everything goes as planned,” agreed Conrad. He started talking about the ups and downs he’d faced in his life. As he talked, he inched closer.

When she mentioned that, on top of everything else, her car had broken down, Conrad chuckled. “Well, that’s better than when my friend rolled his car,” he said. “Too much power for him.” The woman laughed.

“I told a few more jokes about my friends, and the dumb things we’ve done, just to get her mind off stuff,” he says.

TEXT: She grabbed the railing, saying, "I'm not worth it."

Conrad is a quiet guy, not given to gabbing. But for the next hour he found enough topics of conversation to keep the woman engaged and even laughing. She grew comfortable enough to let him get within a few feet of her.

Then a switch seemingly went off.

Saving the woman on the bridge

Without warning, she climbed onto the railing. Conrad reached for her. She teetered. He threw his arms around her, hauling her down off the railing. She grabbed the railing, saying, “I’m not worth it.”

“Let go of the railing,” Conrad said, his heart pounding, “or I’ll have to yank you off, and I don’t want to hurt you.”

Suddenly, bright lights appeared. It was the police. Someone had reported Conrad’s car for being parked on the bridge—just as he’d hoped. The two officers took hold of the woman, then handed Conrad a knife so that he could sever the rope tethering her to the bridge. Soon, more police arrived and the woman was taken to a hospital for observation.

Sadly, this was not the first time someone tried to end it all on one of the city’s bridges. What was unusual was what Alex Conrad did.

“Usually, at best, we have someone see something odd and call us later,” says police Lt. Brian Micolichek. “It’s rare that someone gets personally involved.”

One officer was so impressed by Conrad’s actions that he suggested he consider a career as a police negotiator. Conrad declined.

“You can’t win them all,” he says. “And I’d have to live with that for the rest of my life.” Instead, he’s going out with a perfect record.

Next, read more stories of chance encounters with kind strangers.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest