Bill Morris in Building Operations on August 19, 2016
So far this year, eight people have leaped or fallen to their deaths from the George Washington Bridge. On July 28, a 19-year-old Massachusetts man was getting ready to become number nine. Julio De Leon wasn’t having it.
It was the peak of afternoon rush hour on a sweltering day, and De Leon was riding his bike west across the bridge, heading home to Rockland County from his job as doorman at 221 W. 82nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The first thing out of the ordinary that De Leon noticed was the dog leashed to the bridge railing. Then he saw the young man on the ledge on the far side of the railing, his arms resting on the railing, nothing below him but 200 feet of sky and the concrete-hard slab of the Hudson River.
“It scared me, but somebody had to do something,” De Leon recalled on Thursday. “I held out my hands and went toward him and said, ‘Look at my hands. I love you. Think about your family.’ He was crying. He started hugging me.”
De Leon held on and, with the help of another bystander, dragged the suicidal man back over the railing to safety. The bystander had a cellphone – which he had used to snap a picture of the man on the ledge before coming to his aid – and De Leon told him to call the police.
The story of De Leon’s good deed made the New York Times, and on Thursday he was honored in an informal sidewalk ceremony by the front door of 221 W. 82nd Street, where he has worked as a doorman for 31 years. Well-wishers included residents of the building, fellow staff members, representatives from De Leon’s union, 32BJ, and Michael Berenson, president of Akam Associates, which manages the 17-story, 98-unit cond-op. Berenson presented De Leon with a plaque and a $350 gift certificate to Danny’s Cycles.
When it came his turn to speak, De Leon, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and a father of three, couldn’t find his voice. Fighting tears, he said, “I’m not a hero. My mother is a hero for teaching me the value of every human life.”
Then a smile spread across his face like a sunrise, and the small crowd on the sidewalk began to applaud.
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