By Hannah Hughes —
Wrenched by depression, John Kevin Hines, 19, followed through on his plans to plunge from the Golden Gate Bridge to snuff out his life.
“In the millisecond after my hands left the rail, I said to myself, ‘What have I just done? I don’t want to die. God, please save me!’” he remembers. “I felt instant regret for my actions.”
Unlike 57 other bodies fished out by a Coast Guard crew in recent years, Kevin survived.
After falling 25 stories in four seconds, he broke the frigid San Francisco Bay waters in the perfect feat first, the optimal position to cheat death. Only some vertebrae were shattered. An eyewitness phoned the Coast Guard, who rescued him, bobbing in the water, minutes later.
Kevin, with his father, today
For Kevin, the makings of bipolar disorder started early. Born to poor, troubled parents, Kevin was left abandoned in a flophouse as a baby and taken by Child Protective Services, according to SFGate news
When his parents got their act together, he returned home at nine months. His father, Pat, started work as a banker and thrived. His mother adopted two other kids, and they had a home in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. Everything was turning ideal.
Then at age 10, Kevin experience an epileptic seizure and was prescribed Tegretol.
Overcoming these early difficulties, Kevin progresssed through his education and got into acting and athletics. Despite having asthma, he played on Riordan High School’s wrestling team and its football team.
At age 16, his parents initiated a divorce.
Since Kevin hadn’t experienced a seizure in so many years, he was taken off Tegretol, which no one knew at the time had a secondary benefit of suppressing the violent mood swings typical of bipolar disorder.
After going off the meds, immediately “Kevin went down Alice’s hole,” Pat recalls.
He experienced a breakdown on stage during a school play. He fought with his mom and moved in with dad only to butt heads. He was irritable and spiraled cyclically in despair, usually bottoming out on Thursdays and Fridays.
When his drama teacher commited suicide, he was deeply affected, marked by the memory of the harrowing event.
He was struggling emotionally. But Kevin was in denial about his own need to seek help. He shored up his facade reminding himself of his triumphs in sports.
Other people were failures, needy, unstable — not him, he kept saying to himself.
“I was so much denial and that denial ruled the day until I crashed hard,” he says in a YouTube video.
On Sept. 22, 2000, his girlfriend broke up with him.
That weekend, he experienced hallucinations and heard voices.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” he told his dad.
“You have an obligation to be here,” Pat responded. “We love you.”
Despite the exchange of words, his dad didn’t really know the full extent of Kevin’s inner anguish. And Kevin didn’t really feel loved.
“I thought I was my family’s burden,” he explains.
After six attempts at writing a suicide note, he left the seventh version in his room.
“I sat at my desk and I penned that note mom: Dad,brother, sister, girlfriend, best friend, love you but I gotta go,” he says.
On Sunday morning Sept 24, he went to Walgreens of a “breakfast” of skittles and starburst. Then Kevin boarded a bus bound for the iconic bridge that links San Francisco with the northern peninsula that’s the inlet to the San Francisco Bay.
It is a postcard picturesque place — and a notorious choice for suicide.
As the bus drove, he mulled his determination. There were conflicting emotions. He actually felt relief that all the pain would be over. The voices kept telling him: “You must die! You can’t go back! You are a burden to those who love you!”
When he got off the Golden Gate Bridge, he was crying.
If anyone stopped to ask him what was wrong, he thought, he wouldn’t jump. He walked down the bridge. Joggers passed without apparently noticing the tears on his face. A German tourist came up to him. He thought this was his chance. But no, she ignored his tears and only asked for him to take her picture.
Police officers on a bike, whose job it is to stop suicide attempts, also passed by him and ignored him.
So he jumped.
He plummeted the 200 feet. The voices telling him he had to die stopped talking, and his rationale returned. He cried out to God, as reported by Lifezette.
Kevin broke the surface of the water feet first. This gave him the best chance to survive. The impact shattered vertebrae and very nearly severed his spinal cord completely. But it didn’t kill him.
The momentum of the fall carried him into the depths of the bay. As he speed wore off with the friction and pressure of the waters, he slowed, stopped and began to rise. A survival instinct took over and he struggled to swim to the surface, through which he popped shortly.
The felt excruciating pain in his back. He tried to tread water, but he began to sink.
He felt something underneath him seem to push him again. He thought it was some sea creature, maybe even a shark or a sea lion.
He heard a boat motor and seconds later hands were pulling him out before he went into shock from hypothermia.
The Coast Guard crew put a neck brace on him. One member leaned over him and addressed him.
“Kid, do you know how many people we pull out of this water who are already gone?” he recalls on a Power 106 YouTube video. “This unit has pulled out 57 dead bodies out of this water — and one live one.”
At the hospital, Kevin’s dad was the first to arrive.
“I looked up at my dad, and I said, ‘Dad, I’m sorry,’” he says. “And he looked at me and said with great conviction, ‘No, Kevin, I’M sorry.’ And waterfalls flew from his eyes. He put his hand on my forehead and said words I have never forgotten: ‘Kevin, you are going to be ok, I promise.’”
His recovery from suicidal thoughts and bipolar disorder has not been seamless. Kevin has been admitted to psych wards seven times in the 10 years after his suicide attempt. The first three admittances were against his will.
It eventually became beneficial for Kevin to acknowledge his struggles as mental illness and to attack it with the help of medical professionals as a sickness. God has helped him make it through.
“Every night that I spent in psych wards — and I’ve been an inpatient seven times for suicidal crisis — I prayed,” Kevin says. “Every night I spent in a halfway home for the mentally ill, I have prayed. I have prayed through dangerous and scary situations.”
Today he is happily married and lives in Atlanta. He’s a motivational speaker and an advocate for suicide prevention.
“I pray every day. I feel human beings take so many little things for granted,” Kevin says. “But after what happened to me, I tend not to. I do my very best in life to not take every person I get the privilege of meeting — every place I get the honor of going to, and everything I get the grace of doing — for granted. I walk into a hotel, for example, and I’m appreciative of the people who came before me who made that hotel. I appreciate the people who set up the coffee machine.”
Hannah Hughes is my student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.