A local hero.

‘An Easter miracle’: Duluth student thwarts potential suicide
By Peter Passi on Mar 28, 2016 at 9:30 p.m.

Thomas Stolee, a 19-year-old Duluth Denfeld grad now enrolled as a freshman at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, was definitely in the right place at the right time this past Easter Sunday.

mugSTOLEE -- Thomas Stolee.

 Thomas Stolee.

On a routine run Sunday afternoon, he encountered a young woman who appeared poised to jump from a bridge into the Mississippi River below.

A concerned Stolee cut his run short when he saw her standing at the railing of the bridge — a former railroad trestle which now accommodates a recreational path.

“I stopped and tried to talk to her. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘Get away from me,’ ” Stolee recalled.

Heeding her directions, Stolee backed away, but he continued to talk to the woman, who now was straddling the railing, with one foot on each side of it.

Stolee said he told the woman his name and continued to engage her in conversation for the next 20-25 minutes, during which time several people passed by but failed to take notice or offer assistance. Stolee was not carrying a cellphone at the time. Finally, he got the attention of a couple of passing bicyclists and mouthed the word “help” in their direction.

They apparently took note and advised campus police of the situation.

Meanwhile, Stolee continued to talk.

“I was just trying to engage her and create a personal rapport,” he said.

As he spoke to the distraught 24-year-old woman, Stolee continued to edge closer to her. He estimates he was about 4-5 feet away from her when she began to swing her second leg over the rail, removing the final jumping obstacle.

“It was go-time,” Stolee said. “So I lunged, grabbed her and pulled her back.”

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Stolee said he never felt personally in danger of falling off the bridge during the ordeal. He estimated the woman weighed around 130 pounds.

She broke down sobbing and offered no resistance, as Stolee pulled her to safety.

Campus police, who had just moments earlier arrived on the scene, were quick to swoop in and offer assistance at 1:10 p.m.

Stolee works on campus as a security monitor, but Justin Yarrington, manager of the security program, noted that the student wasn’t on duty at the time of the incident.

“The fact that he stopped when he saw someone in trouble says a lot about his character,” Yarrington said. “It shows that he cares about helping others and doing the right thing.”

Although the incident ended well, Stolee said it took a while to mentally process after it was over.

“It was definitely the most stressful thing I’ve ever been through,” he said.

When he got home, Stolee called his father, a member of the Duluth Police Department.

Sgt. Tom Stolee said his son sounded out of breath.

“When he called me, I could certainly detect the stress in his voice. There are physiological reactions that go along with something like that,” Sgt. Stolee said. He explained that the body’s response to a high-stress situation can be similar to that of strenuous physical activity.

“Your heart rate and blood pressure and everything are all going to be up, and you just need to breathe deeply and almost use meditation tactics to bring yourself back down,” Sgt. Stolee said.

He also advised his son to stop running over the events in his mind and thinking about how things could have gone differently.

“There’s no use in stressing about the what-ifs,” Stolee told his son.

Sunday’s events only confirmed Sgt. Stolee’s expectations of his son.

“He wouldn’t be one to walk by when he sees something going on that would require intervention. He’d be in a position to intervene and hopefully have a positive impact on the outcome,” he said.

Patricia Stolee, Tom’s mother, referred to her son’s actions Sunday as nothing short of “an Easter miracle.”

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