LEHI, Utah (ABC4) – Joe Tuia’ana found himself on schedule with a higher agenda when running late for his daughter’s basketball game on Jan. 29.
As he made the frantic drive to the game, the single dad of three girls found himself checking his rearview mirror after spotting a man parked beside the overpass between Main St. and the 2100 N. exit in Lehi.
Tuia’ana’s daughters began to scream as they watched the young man exit his car, walk onto the overpass’ concrete ledge, and then climb the fence to the other side of the barrier, standing directly above the array of moving cars. That’s when Tuia’ana stepped on the gas and circled back around, calling on his one of his young daughters to dial 9-1-1.
After he pulled over and stopped his car, Tuia’ana moved at a slow and steady pace towards the man with his arms outstretched, repeating “I love you, bro” again and again, as he watched the man shake in fear.
Tuia’ana explained his apprehension in approaching the man, thinking to himself, “What if he’s intimidated by you, and he jumps. That will be completely your fault, Joe.”
That’s why, Tuia’ana said, “As I got closer to him I wanted to make sure he knew I loved him.” Looking back on the situation, all the community hero can recall is feeling complete love for the stranger on the other side of the fence.
After finding himself within arms-length of the man, Tuia’ana knew he had to take action.
“It got to a point where I thought he might just fall because the guy is so distressed and that’s when I actually felt I had a huge rush of confidence and strength in my old age and I just jumped up there and picked him up over the fence, at this point he was already not wanting to jump. He knew I wanted to hug him,” he remembers.
After the rescue, Tuia’ana recalls falling to the sidewalk while embracing the man.
“I held him like one of my kids,” he said.
For the next three minutes as they waited for first responders to arrive, Tuia’ana felt peace and tranquility as he held the man in his arms.
“In those three minutes he didn’t say anything, he just cried. This guy, I could feel his pain, his agony. I just cried with him, rubbed his back, and told him I loved him.”
When law enforcement arrived, Tuia’ana was grateful that the man had calmed down enough to speak with authorities and answer questions. Though he refers to himself as somewhat hesitant around police presence, Tuia’ana dubbed the officers who aided in the situation as “really cool guys,” sharing that they were “so peaceful and comforting to this guy.”
Tuia’ana explained how the young man continued to hold onto him as he spoke with officials, and even looked to him briefly for approval when asked by an officer if they could relocate to continue their discussion as crowds were forming. To this, Tuia’ana replied with a simple smile, acknowledging “you’re okay now – it’s okay”.
In the total amount of time they spent with each other, the only words Tuia’ana spoke to the man were “I love you”.
When reflecting on those three minutes the two men spent alone together, Tuia’ana became emotional, taking on a sentimental demeanor, saying, “In those three minutes that I was with him kind of represents, like, what any person in his situation wants in three minutes, is just someone to love them.”
After parting ways with the young man, Tuia’ana and his girls made it to the second half of the basketball game. “I don’t even remember the game,” he confessed, understandably.
It took about two or three days of contemplation for Tuia’ana to warm up to the idea of speaking out about the event. In a Facebook post uploaded on Feb. 2, Tuia’ana shared an emotional expression of his experience.
Today, Tuia’ana views the interaction as something more than a case of being in the right place at the right time. “This happened for a reason… for all of us that are struggling… we’ve all been there.”
When asked what he would say to his newfound companion if they were to ever meet again, Tuia’ana said, “I would love to see him again… just to remind him that I love him.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah: namiut.org