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.