By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Fred and Ceil Feldman sat down for coffee and toast inside their snug beachside condo just before 8 one morning. From their kitchen table, on the sixth floor, the elderly couple gazed in comfortable silence at the ocean. Life hadn't yet begun to buzz at Sands Pointe Condominium. Only white lounge chairs occupied the pool deck outside their door. Even the palm trees below, with their downturned fronds, looked sleepy.
Then there was a strange and heavy thump.
Fred set down his mug and stood. "I thought a picture had fallen off the wall," he remembers.
Through the glass door, he caught a glimpse of a figure on his patio. It looked like a woman lying down. He walked closer and found a fair-skinned, 89-pound brunet facedown and limp. She wore pajamas with matching slippers. Near her head, blood formed a puddle on the cool concrete. Fred knew immediately: She was dead.
Her name was Khinna, and she had fallen from the sky. Or, more precisely, she had taken a dose of morphine, stood on a lawn chair, and jumped from her 24th-floor balcony. She was a 61-year-old terminal cancer patient. She had landed four feet from the Feldmans' patio door.
Fred paced around, trying to be a good decisionmaker. What do I do? Who do I call? My God, what are the odds? he thought. Ceil's blood pressure dropped so low that she nearly fainted. She had to close her pretty brown eyes. In the distance, the pool glistened in the Florida sunshine.
Cops and firefighters arrived within minutes at the Sunny Isles Beach condo that October morning in 2007. To them, the scene was nothing new: just another jumper.
Some cities have fabled bridges where the hopeless go to end it all. Others have eerie cliffs where bodies plunge into rocky canyons. In South Florida, the suicidal have found their own vehicle for death: posh, shining, and sometimes new condo towers. In Broward County, at least 16 have jumped to their deaths since 2007. In Miami-Dade, 16 people have joined them. (Numbers weren't available for Palm Beach County.) Few of the hundreds of suicides locally are by jumping, but of those, high-rises have hosted more jumpers than any other type of structure in South Florida.
It would be easy to connect the suicides to the economy or the condo market crash and to draw some parallel to the stockbrokers who jumped from buildings during the Great Depression.
What prompted the suicides points to reasons other than the economy. Mental illness is the common thread. They include a lonesome millionaire, a gorgeous sorority girl, and a gay bartender who survived for hours after his leap. Their stories speak to what pulls a person to the ledge, the mysteries they leave behind, and the lives affected by their last fall.
It makes sense that the towers — which boast ocean views like those in oil paintings — have attracted jumpers. The more mystique a place has, the more likely it will become a suicide spot, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, for example, has tallied an average of one victim every two weeks.
Although suicide takes more lives than homicide in America, the media has an awkward relationship with the sensitive subject. In South Florida, not one of the jumps has been reported in the news, although they take place in highly visible buildings, where hundreds of people live. It's understandable. Journalists must ask themselves tough questions about privacy and social responsibility when covering these events. So the subject is generally ignored.
There are no easy answers, says Dr. Paula Clayton of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "In other cities, we lobby for restrictions on bridges like nets and guardrails." But Clayton acknowledges it's impossible to restrict people from jumping off South Florida's condo towers.
It would be unfair to blame the developers, says Toni Pacelli-Hinkley, executive vice president of the Builders Association of South Florida. "I don't think it's a building trend — at least I certainly hope not," she says. "If someone is determined to take their own life, they'll find another vehicle to use."
What follows are the stories of 19 of the dead as told by public records, loved ones, and witnesses. In some cases, identifying details and the names of surviving family members have been changed.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
5:34 p.m., Island Shores, Sunny Isles
Felipe, a sad-eyed maintenance man at the Eden Roc Hotel, had tried it once before with heart medication. The overdose didn't work, so the 53-year-old climbed to the top of the 11-story, Easter-egg-yellow Island Shores. He gazed toward Maule Lake and then threw himself over the edge. A stranger was driving down N.E. 163rd Street when he saw Felipe's 140-pound body smash onto the pavement.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
4:30 a.m., Jade Winds , Miami
Edina, a curvy model from Hungary, made the 911 call from the eighth floor. Her boyfriend, Zoltan, had gone ballistic, she told cops. After an evening together at Mansion nightclub in South Beach, he had begun to beat her.
Zoltan, a hulking 26-year-old bodybuilder, was born in Jordan. After living in Canada, he moved to Florida in January 2007 and began attending aviation school. A few weeks after the move, over a lamb and hummus dinner with his uncle, Zoltan spoke passionately about becoming a pilot. "We ate, we talked, we laughed," says the uncle, Mohod Flafil.
In the wee hours of February 25, Zoltan drove his luxury car to Jade Winds Condo with Edina. There, "a struggle ensued on the first floor," according to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's investigative report. Edina, with bruises on her face and arms, "took off in an attempt to escape." The couple left a trail of blood in the lobby and elevator. Zoltan chased her upstairs, where she hid in a friend's unit. She last saw her boyfriend near a balcony on the eighth floor.
When Miami-Dade Police arrived, they found Zoltan's 238-pound body sprawled on the roof of the first-floor balcony. He had a star-shaped fracture on the back of his head, broken ribs, and a hemorrhage in his left testicle, according to the autopsy report.
Zoltan's uncle — a cabinetmaker from Pompano Beach — believes he was murdered. "My nephew didn't kill himself," he insists, his grape-hued lips curving into a frown. "He loved himself."
On a recent muggy Tuesday, Flafil leans against the outside of a warehouse in Pompano Beach. He takes a drag off a Marlboro Light and points up at the sky. "Every time I see an airplane," he says softly, "I think of him."
Saturday, April 7, 2007
7:57 a.m., Winston Towers, Sunny Isles Beach
Ana awoke to find herself alone in bed. Her 85-year-old husband was nowhere to be seen. Nick was a Romanian-born building manager with round hazel eyes and a history of clinical depression. Ana shuffled down to the lobby and found a pack of firefighters, who gave her the news. He had fallen nearly 100 feet and landed in the parking lot. His head faced toward the sea.
Monday, April 23, 2007
7:04 a.m., Sailboat Cay, Miami
The wavy-haired stock market investor landed in a concrete planter after jumping from the sixth floor. Dominique's expensive wristwatch was covered in dirt, and seven of his ribs were broken. On his forehead was a cavernous wound. At age 55, he left behind a wife, two kids, and a carpet-cleaning shop named after him.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
1 p.m., One Miami, Miami
On June 29, 2006, a quietly confident 24-year-old named Tavarius logged onto his financial blog. "It makes me feel good," he typed, "when individuals my age manage their wealth appropriately." Then he logged off.
The slim, stylish entrepreneur had made thousands in the stock market and liked to post investment advice. But money, friends now say, was to blame for his death.
Tavarius grew up in a two-story yellow house with his grandma Helen in Royal Palm Isles. Childhood friend Brandie Zackery remembers him this way: "We were the geeks until he got popular in high school... Even then, he was always humble, never stuck-up."
After college at Florida A&M, Tavarius founded a Miami-based boutique investment firm called iVestDirect and made thousands in no time. Then the economy soured. As quickly as he'd earned it, Tavarius lost all of his money. It brought him down so low that he stopped showering and shaving.
On May 1, 2007, Tavarius invited some friends over to the penthouse for brunch. He didn't tell them he was getting evicted. George Caboverde, a teenaged party promoter, brought spicy shrimp for Tavarius' party. A few minutes after pulling up in his car, Caboverde spotted a slim, lifeless body near the driveway.
Miami Police Officer J. Garcia soon arrived and determined that the party host had jumped. The cop noted, "I observed [Tavarius] lying in the southwest corner" of the lot, near the condo restaurant. In the right pocket of his gray shorts were the keys to his condo.
After Tavarius' death, investigators found he had "one pregnant girlfriend and another who had just undergone an abortion." His son was born two months later.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
8:45 a.m. The Claridge, Pompano Beach
The obituary called it a "terrible accident," but Broward County Sheriff's officials said the 32-year-old jumped from the 24th floor.
Theodore was a distant relative of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. He studied the classics and ancient languages, earning a master's degree from Brown while avoiding the spotlight, reluctant to talk about his fabled family. "Theodore tended to be in his own world," Angela Hussein, a former classmate, told ABC News.
When his father, Prince Nikita, had a massive stroke, Theodore cared for him religiously. He became "severely depressed" when Nikita died in May 2007, his mother told sheriff's detectives. When he returned to Florida from a visit to his father's grave, Theodore told his mom he would "soon be with his dad."
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
4:09 p.m. Galt Ocean Terrace, Fort Lauderdale
Carlos Olortegui was doing laundry when he noticed a man in the building next door standing on his 18th-floor balcony, less than a hundred yards away. The 49-year-old had unremarkable features: fair skin, brown hair, a gray shirt, black shorts. His eyes were lucid. When Olortegui saw him climb onto the balcony railing, he opened his window and yelled "Stop!"
The man looked up, then jumped.
He hit several other balcony railings on his way down. By the time his body hit the parking lot, his sandals had fallen off his feet, and his head was swollen to the size of a basketball. Olortegui shooed away the men who had been doing construction in the area where the body fell. He called 911.
When Fort Lauderdale police detectives arrived, they found handwritten notes in Glenn's apartment, one mentioning a $12,000 tax-free gift he had given to someone named Robin, another saying "things never work out the way you hope," according to Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Frank Sousa. About 40 minutes after Glenn died, his sister called from New York to ask police to check on her brother, because he had recently been treated for depression.
Detectives found a cross pinned to the outside of his T-shirt.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
8:05 a.m., Sands Pointe, Sunny Isles Beach
Khinna was beating the cancer that had grown inside her pelvis. Then, in fall 2006, the 61-year-old machinery worker learned it had come back. "I don't want to live like this anymore," she confessed to her family. The sunny morning before she killed herself, her husband stepped out to get her breakfast. He returned and found a lawn chair tipped over on the balcony. Below, Khinna lay dead on the Feldmans' patio.
The Feldmans were trapped in the gruesome scene of Khinna's death: They weren't able to leave their home for hours. A cleaning crew finally began to wash the couple's blood-stained patio six hours later.
These days, Fred, an 81-year-old retired businessman, sometimes thinks about that fateful morning. What if he and Ceil had decided to have coffee outside that day? Would they be alive? And what if Khinna's husband hadn't left to fetch breakfast? Or if the cancer hadn't come back?
Fred and Ceil don't pretend to know what went on in that poor woman's mind. "It may seem strange," Fred says, "but we feel lucky to be alive."
Saturday, April 19, 2008
7:20 a.m., Key Colony, Key Biscayne
Enrique spoke his last words in Spanish. "I've done something wrong, and you will cry," he told his wife. What that something was will remain a mystery. At 75 years old, the industrial fisherman had an anxiety disorder worsened by the death of his mother. At 4:30 a.m., he awoke feeling restless. In a fit, he took off his clothes, paced around the living room, and threw furniture over the balcony. He jumped from the ninth floor and landed in a small flower garden.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
9:06 p.m., Mirador, Miami Beach
His buddies called him "the Bartman" because his life stories were more exciting than fiction. A self-made millionaire and scuba diver, Bart was the life of the party at the D.C.-based National Potomac Yacht Club. "He was one of the most exciting, outrageous, and fun-loving guys we have ever known," clubber Harold Seigel wrote after his death. "We will be telling Bart stories for as long as we live."
But underneath those dimples and one-liners, something dark ate away at him.
Born in New York City in 1949, Bart was a competitive kid. That drive helped him found a successful company in Virginia called Potomac Floor Covering. In March 2005, he resigned from his position at the business and sold 9,000 shares of company stock for $1.8 million.
After his retirement, Bart injured his knee and got hooked on painkillers. Around the same time, he discovered he had hepatitis C and enrolled in a research program for treatment at the University of Miami. Retirement wasn't going the way he'd planned.
The evening of May 6, 2008, a teenager was lounging in the living room of unit 1125 in Mirador when he heard a noise. He looked up and noticed "something pass by [his] window, which looked like a person," a Miami Beach Police report states. It was Bart.
When cops arrived, they found the door to unit 1225 ajar. Inside, officers spotted "a wine glass with possible lipstick on the rim," a "syringe with unknown liquid," and "empty baggies on top of the dresser along with a spoon." Blood spots speckled the glass coffee table. A woman had been there, "possibly a prostitute," the medical examiner's investigative report says.
The fall broke both of Bart's legs, and he died on impact. In the days afterward, his lawyer, David Charles Masselli, explained that finances couldn't have triggered the suicide: Bart was loaded. He left behind a daughter.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
9:40 a.m., Mirador, Miami Beach
Jane left the window to Penthouse 3 half-open. The 57-year-old real estate agent had access to the spacious condo, which was under construction on the 17th floor. A Miami Hurricanes fan with bipolar disorder, she jumped in comfortable green sneakers and landed near the building's entrance. A baseball cap fluttered down behind her.
Monday, July 21, 2008
4:30 p.m., Bay Garden Manor, Miami Beach
Jamie chooses to remember her handsome, green-eyed father before the sickness turned him into a stranger. It comes in images: his smiling face at the go-kart track, the warmth of water while they were boating, playing putt-putt in the sun. "He taught me to be so independent," she says. "He was such a loving father."
Her dad, Fabio, came to Miami from Cuba in 1964 on a nine-foot wooden boat with three friends. In Miami, he met a woman near the Key Biscayne lighthouse. They later married and had a daughter, Jamie. He landed a job moving industrial equipment and then eventually began to run the business.
Fabio developed bipolar disorder after his retirement, Jamie says. "He went through episodes of mania," she explains. "He would spend all of his money, shoplift, and drive around like a maniac. It wasn't him. It was his illness." His wife left him, and Fabio was arrested several times in the last years of his life.
After all the legal troubles, Jamie checked her father into a hospital for psychiatric treatment. He didn't adjust well. "Trust me, he had his problems," Jamie says. "But it was hard for him to go from being king of his business to living with schizophrenic people."
On July 21, 2008, Jamie's cell phone rang as she stepped into a yoga class. She recognized the number: Miami Beach Police. The voice on the other line told her to come to the station, that something was wrong. Intuitively, she knew her father was dead. She went straight to the condo and found crime-scene tape stretched across the parking lot.
Fabio had made his way to the fire escape on the 11th floor and slid out a window. He left no suicide note.
Jamie hasn't been back to the building since. "It's so hard to lose your dad," she says, blinking away tears. "I lost him to the disorder long before he died."
Friday, August 22, 2008
12:03 p.m., Triton Tower, Miami Beach
Hector was 72 years old but looked much younger. Each morning, before his wife and son awoke, he'd walk for miles — sometimes from Bal Harbour to the southern end of the island. He had been depressed for years. "My dad used to give money to the less fortunate who lived on the beach," his son says. "While other people walked away from them, my dad talked to them."
When Hector's wife was away shopping August 22, he penned a goodbye note to his family. Afterward, he grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed himself once in the chest and again in the lower torso. The blade tore through his teal polo shirt, but the wounds were shallow. When the knife didn't work, he stumbled to the window of his eighth-floor condo and jumped into a grassy yard.
Fire-rescue workers pronounced him dead at the scene.
His note read, "Adiós a todos" — goodbye to all — "8-22-2008."
Monday, September 22, 2008
6:02 p.m., Hamptons South, Aventura
It was a windy Monday, and Leon was sick of his job. The 39-year-old New Jersey native had hazel eyes and a short crop of curly brown hair. A newly married man with bipolar disorder, he resigned from his position at Communication Consultant Group before lunchtime. After he quit, he called his mother and told her the news. She picked him up at the train station and took him to therapy. Then they had lunch at a Chinese restaurant, where they ate rice and vegetables.
Back at his parents' condo that afternoon, his mom and dad retired for a nap. While they slept, he leapt from the eighth-floor balcony and crashed onto a chair below. The sound of police officers knocking at the door woke his father a couple of hours later.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
2:47 a.m., Palms of Alton Road, Miami Beach
Terry, a blond bartender at the gay nightclub Twist, left an 11-page handwritten suicide note on his kitchen table. It was addressed to different family members and offered bits of advice. To his younger cousin, he wrote, "Get an education." Dropping out of school was one of the things Terry regretted most.
Terry was born in 1971, the youngest of three sons, in a quiet Detroit suburb. He was "an extremely good-looking child," remembers his mom, Ellie, "and one of the rowdiest kids in his nursery school."
He left home at age 18, dropped out of community college, and became a Buddhist. He eventually ended up in South Beach. The pay was good at the bar, and Terry was generous with his cash. If somebody had a birthday, he would buy the cake. If he knew a friend liked dirty martinis, he would make a special trip to the store. "Terry threw money around like crazy," Ellie remembers.
In 2001, public records show, he took out a $94,500 mortgage from Southeast Bankers Mortgage on Lincoln Road. But he soon got into trouble with the IRS and lost his condo, Ellie says. He owed creditors thousands.
Before Terry died, he watched The Simpsons and ate a hamburger with a friend, Ellie says. After he went home, he walked to the rear of unit 509, gazed at the city lights, and jumped. His body landed on the hood of a car.
A Miami Beach Police officer found Terry still alive.
"Why didn't I die?" Terry asked. In pain, he pleaded for the officer to shoot him. He died three hours later at the hospital.
These days, the thought of Terry's fall wakes Ellie in the middle of the night. "I have a hard time going to sleep," she says with a shaky voice. "And his father cries in church every Sunday."
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
4:10 p.m., Mar Del Plata, Miami Beach
Responding to a call for a death investigation, Miami Beach Police Det. Robert Lawrence found Plácido slumped by the pool. The collision had broken his neck and knocked out his top teeth. The father of two hadn't been able to work since 1992 because of a disability. He had told psychiatrists at Mercy Hospital he was hallucinating. The voices in his head urged him: "You must die."
Thursday, June 25, 2009
11:10 p.m., 1800 Club, Miami
Other girls were jealous of Jennifer. It seemed like the stunning brunet had everything. She was one of the brightest in her sorority, with a mellow demeanor guys loved and a well-off, supportive family. It made no sense, friends would say later, that she was prone to such impassioned breakdowns.
Jennifer was a New York native who moved to a one-story North Miami Beach home in 1996. At Florida State University, she earned a reputation as "the funky, free-spirited one, as well as the smartest," says former roommate Carrie.
She was away at grad school at Boston University in December 2007 when she first broke down. While studying dentistry, she was kicked out for "alcohol abuse," according to a medical examiner's report. She went to rehab but never stopped wanting to die.
When she moved back to Miami, she sometimes stole anti-anxiety pills from her mom's prescription bottle. In September 2008, she moved in with a boyfriend at the 1800 Club, a sleek, 423-foot tower.
On June 24, her boyfriend returned home from a business trip and kept working. Jennifer "became hysterical because she felt she was being ignored," according to the medical examiner's investigation. She threatened to kill herself, so Will took her cell phone to call the cops.
"The argument became violent when [Jennifer] attempted to get her phone from him," the police report says. Dog walkers in the park below heard them shouting from their 32nd-floor balcony. "If you call them, I'm going to jump!" Jennifer screamed. Then she stepped onto a patio chair, climbed onto a rail, and sat there. "It's my time!" she yelled before plunging to the ground.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
3:17 a.m. Tiara East, Deerfield Beach
Security cameras tracked Michael's decision that day. They watched the 31-year-old walk into his condo building alone and take the freight elevator to the 17th floor. Around 3 a.m., security guard Peter Gonzalez was patrolling the south side of the building and discovered a body, bleeding from the head.
Family members would later explain that Michael was depressed, having lost his job, and struggled with drug abuse. Empty bottles of oxycodone and Xanax were found in his apartment. The security camera recorded a picture of his body after it hit the ground.
Tuesday, July 28, 2008
8:30 p.m., Opera Tower, Miami
Mariajose, a short 29-year-old with long brown locks, was hosting an afternoon pool party. "She seemed happy," says one close friend. "She had just moved into her new condo." Though she had been hospitalized for suicide attempts, she was excelling as an analyst for Burger King Corp. And it wouldn't be long before she'd be done with her master's in business at the University of Miami.
Midway through the party, she and her boyfriend, Victor, "were involved in a heated argument" inside her condo, according to the medical examiner's investigation. She told him she wanted to die, so Victor left and went looking for help from security guards. When he got downstairs, he saw "people on their cell phones, running frantically" toward Mariajose's bikini-clad body.