The Photo Request has been fulfilled.

 
 Paul Aladdin Alarab

Paul Aladdin Alarab

Birth
Alameda County, California, USA
Death 19 Mar 2003 (aged 44)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Burial Unknown
Memorial ID 52321392 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Golden Gate Bridge fall was 2nd for protester
Victim had survived similar '88 plunge
Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, March 21, 2003

A man who miraculously survived an accidental fall off the Golden Gate Bridge 15 years ago during a personal crusade took a second plunge off the span Wednesday to protest the war in Iraq.

This time, he didn't make it.

As bombs fell on Iraq and San Francisco experienced a wild day of protest, the strange odyssey of Paul Aladdin Alarab revived an age-old argument about putting suicide barriers on the famous bridge.

Bridge authorities and witnesses said the 44-year-old Kensington real estate agent climbed over the east rail Wednesday near the middle of the span, tied one end of a rope to the bridge and wrapped the other end around his arms, then demanded to talk to the media.

As officers tried to talk him back to safety, he read a statement denouncing the war, then let go of the rope and fell 235 feet to his death.

The spectacle was hauntingly similar to the day in 1988 when Alarab tried to lower himself into a garbage can hanging from a 60-foot rope under the bridge to protest the treatment of the elderly and handicapped. He apparently lost his grip and fell into the water, but somehow survived with three broken ribs and collapsed lungs.

The first fall was passed off as an accident, but investigators believe the latest plunge was a suicide, pointing out that he purposely let go of the rope.

Shocked friends and relatives, however, could not believe Alarab would commit suicide, insisting he had a good job and pointing out he had just won custody of his 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

Sereta Churchill, his boss at Century 21 Heritage Real Estate in Lafayette, said he was in good spirits when she saw him the day before his death.

"I can't imagine he'd give up his life with his children for the war," said Churchill, who, along with everybody else in the office, was crestfallen. "He cared very deeply about the children and was excited about the future. Everything was coming together in his life. I can't explain it, and I can't believe it."

Nobody else could explain it either. Kensington police Sgt. Hussain Khan said Alarab, who was once a witness in a small criminal case in town, "seemed like a nice guy."

He lived in the middle-class home once owned by his mother next to Tilden Park and, although he clearly felt strong opposition to the war, never made waves in the town.

A friend of the family speculated that Alarab, whose father immigrated from Iraq, might have believed he could survive the long fall again and jumped for the shock value.

After his fall in 1988, Alarab told a Chronicle reporter, "It seemed like the fall lasted forever. I was praying for God to give me another chance. I was also wondering about how I would hit, because that is what determines if you will live or die."

Whatever was going through his mind Wednesday, his death is a reminder of a problem that has existed on the structure for more than half a century.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the No. 1 suicide landmark in the world. Well over 1,000 people, and probably more than 2,000, are believed to have taken the fatal plunge since the structure was opened 65 years ago.

While Alarab's body was swiftly recovered, many are never found. Fewer than 20 jumpers have survived.

The bridge district studied a possible suicide barrier as recently as 1998 but determined that it was not feasible, mainly because of the cost and aesthetic concerns.

Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said the district now relies on increased patrols, upgraded surveillance equipment and concerned citizens with cell phones to prevent suicide.

"We bring a lot of people off that bridge and save them," Currie said. "Anywhere from 50 to 80 people a year."

Eve Meyer, the executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, said the Golden Gate lends itself to impulsive acts because of the ease with which people can climb over the rail.

"Thoughts of suicide come and go, just like moments of anger do," Meyer said, "but if you have the ability at that moment to act on it, everything is gone."

The impulse is so fickle, according to researchers, that one suicidal man reported not jumping because he didn't want to cross the road to his intended launching point out of fear that he would be hit by a car.

Meyer said, however, that she has never heard of a situation where somebody fell off the bridge by mistake and later came back to jump off deliberately. A small minority -- 6 percent -- of people who try to commit suicide once and fail succeed in killing themselves later, according to studies.

Jerome Motto, a retired UCSF professor of psychiatry, said Alarab may have been so disturbed by the outbreak of war that previously bearable pain suddenly became intolerable.

"There are some people who experience the same thing as everybody else, but their nervous system responds in a hyper-sensitive way," Motto said. "When emotional pain exceeds a certain point, the world constricts: Things that are ordinarily meaningful are eliminated from one's vision, and all that is left is the pain."

And there were signs that everything was not rosy with Alarab. Those who know him said he once had a drinking problem. He was arrested in 1994 for driving under the influence in Contra Costa County, and he has been involved in numerous small claims, civil and petty traffic and criminal cases in the East Bay, according to court records.

He filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

Given what one friend called his "flamboyant" ways, Motto suggested that the first fall might not have been the accident Alarab claimed it was.

"I can't help but being a little bit suspicious," Motto said. "Unfortunately, it's a common thing to make suicide look like an accident."

Right now, the only thing certain about Alarab's second plunge from the landmark is the intense sorrow it has created for those who loved him.

"It is a tragic thing," said a family friend. "War triggers a lot of things in people. It's bad business."

SFGate.com


Advertisement

See more Alarab memorials in:

Advertisement

Advertisement

  • Created by: Vagabond
  • Added: 12 May 2010
  • Find A Grave Memorial 52321392
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Paul Aladdin Alarab (28 Mar 1958–19 Mar 2003), Find A Grave Memorial no. 52321392, ; Maintained by Vagabond (contributor 47278997) Unknown.