An iconic bridge in Williamson County is garnering a grisly reputation. The Natchez Trace Bridge has become an alarmingly popular means for suicide over the years.
“Just one night he drove out here at three in the morning and jumped. And that was it,” Trish Merelo recalled.
Her 17-year-old son had a full ride to college waiting for him the year he took his own life. Merelo described his depression as high-functioning.
“He was still going to school every day, getting wonderful grades. He was a national merit scholar.”
He lost his battle with depression in 2016.
"It is an eerie feeling for me," Merelo said as she walked along the 155-foot structure. "As soon as I come around that bend on I-96 and I see it, I'm filled with that feeling. It's the enemy to me."
32 people have jumped off the local landmark, taking their own lives since 2000. The railings along the bridge, 15 stories above the ground, are 32 inches.
Merelo started the Natchez Bridge Barrier Coalition alongside others who have lost loved ones off the bridge, pleading with lawmakers and the National Parks Service to install higher barriers. Critics say the bridge isn’t the problem.
“We love that bridge. It's not the bridge's fault. People who are suicidal will just find another way,” Merelo quoted comments and push back she sees on social media.
“It’s the same reason you wouldn't have a loaded gun on your kitchen table if you had someone suicidal in your house. It's the same thing. This is a loaded gun to us.”
Merelo said the biggest obstacle in fixing the bridge is that it’s on federal land. There’s nothing the state can do. The State House did pass a resolution declaring the bridge a public health crisis.