SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CN) – A bereaved father sued Cornell University and the city of Ithaca, claiming 15 Cornell students, including his late son, have killed themselves by jumping from bridges on the campus in the past 20 years.
The Cornell campus known as East Hill contains seven bridges that cross two major, steep, wooded gorges with streams and waterfalls. It has become an iconic spot for suicide, Howard Ginsburg says in his federal complaint.
Twenty-nine people, including 15 Cornell students, have attempted suicide by jumping into the gorges over the past 20 years, Ginsburg says. Twenty-seven jumpers died, including 18-year-old Bradley Ginsburg, a Cornell freshman, who leapt on Feb. 17, 2010.
Howard Ginsburg claims the city and college failed to take precautionary measures to prevent “vulnerable or impulsive” students from ending their lives.
Ginsburg also sued Cornell President David Skorton, Vice President Susan Murphy, its Mental Health Director Timothy Marchell and Counseling Director Greg Eells.
“It has been stated by defendant Greg Eells, that 10 percent to 15 percent of Cornell University students are ‘thinking about suicide on a pretty regular basis,'” according to the complaint.
Howard Ginsburg claims that during his son’s first semester at Cornell, in the fall of 2009, three student suicides occurred on or near the university campus.
“The three student suicides were not publicized, on the contrary, they were kept quiet by Cornell University, and by defendants Skorton, Murphy, Marchell and Eells,” according to the complaint.
Ginsburg claims the defendants “had actual knowledge of the strong likelihood of self-infliction of harm posed by the Thurston Avenue Bridge, due to the long history of gorge-related suicides.”
The Thurston Avenue Bridge connects the North Campus freshman housing area to the Main Campus academic area, and is the main gorge crossing at the center of the campus.
“Between 1990 and 2010, 29 persons attempted suicide by jumping from the bridges into the gorges. Twenty-seven of those were successful in ending their lives. Fifteen of the 27 were Cornell University students. Seventeen persons jumped from City of Ithaca owned bridges; 12 from spans owned by Cornell University,” the complaint states.
“Due to the public nature of the gorge jump suicides over decades, the Cornell University campus area became known as an iconic spot for ending one’s life. …
“Many times over the years, there have been public outcries for suicide prevention measures to be taken on the bridges. For example, in 1977, a grieving father urged the City of Ithaca and Cornell University officials to install suicide prevention devices on several gorge bridges, as his daughter had leaped to her death the year before.”
But Ginsburg says only one bridge received any suicide prevention measures, and six more people leapt into the gorges to their death during the next 12 months.
In 1994 an Ithaca police officer asked that nets be installed under five of the bridges, but the request went unheeded, and 19 more deaths have occurred from the East Hill bridges since then, Ginsburg says.
“Jennifer Strand-Mullen, the executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center of Tompkins County has publicly stated ‘Bridge barriers, in particular, represent the most effective, proven way of preventing deaths. We have supported the placement of bridge barriers since the late 1970’s,'” according to the complaint.
“Defendant Cornell University and defendants Skorton, Murphy, Marchell and Eells, knowing of the serious risk and harm, and possessing actual knowledge of suicides by jumping in the past, failed to take obvious steps to address the serious known risk, as the Thurston Avenue Bridge lacked adequate means restriction to prevent suicide by jumping into the gorge below, and the same was in a dangerous and defective condition.”
A consultants’ report on suicide prevention released in 2010 stated that restricting access to jumping sites has a “substantial probability” of saving lives, as “most individuals who jump from iconic sites are ambivalent,” and “act impulsively.”
Ginsburg seeks punitive damages on 14 causes of action. He is represented by Leland Williams of Rochester.