March 16, 2001

Students Acclaimed For Life-Saving Act

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In an informal recognition event on March 5, President Hunter R. Rawlings III and the Cornell Police commended Monique Viengkhou grad, Sanjay Idnani grad, Scott McWilliam grad and his brother Kendall McWilliam, whose acts of kindness made a difference in the life of a girl, according to Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services.

The three Cornell students and Kendall saved the life of a distraught freshman perched on the ledge of the Fall Creek suspension bridge last November.

Viengkhou, Idnani, Scott and Kendall were presented with Cornell University Police civilian awards as well as personal letters of praise from Cornell Police Chief William Boice, said Cornell Police Sgt. Richard Gourley.

“It was an extraordinary feat on the part of the students to get directly involved,” said Gourley, who requested that the students’ actions be acknowledged. “Had the students not acted, we probably would have been dealing with the loss of a student’s life.”

“They could have just said to themselves that they didn’t know who that person was and that there was no reason to get involved,” said Murphy, who was present at the commendation in Rawlings’ office. “For all they knew, she could have been just basking in the moonlight.”

On Nov. 5, Viengkhou, Idnani, Scott and Kendall were walking back home via the suspension bridge around 3:30 a.m. Idnani and Kendall were walking 100 feet ahead of Viengkhou and Scott when they saw a girl sitting on the edge of the bridge, said Scott.

Idnani and Kendall did not think the situation was too precarious at first, according to Scott. “I’ve worked in New York for five years, and I’ve seen stranger things,” he said.

“We didn’t know if she was just hanging out and enjoying the night,” Scott said, but when Idnani and Kendall saw that the girl had “climbed up onto guard rail … with her feet dangling over the low point of the suspension,” they realized that something was wrong.

While Idnani and Kendall were waiting for Scott and Viengkhou to reach the scene, Idnani and Kendall had asked the girl if she was okay, according to Scott.

“She told them she was fine,” Scott said, “But when Viengkhou and I got there, we were all looking at each other thinking that [the situation] was really, really odd … That’s when we made the decision to call the police.”

“I walked off casually at first so she wouldn’t know that I was running to call for help,” said Idnani, who then covetously “sprinted” home to dial 911 from his residence about 100 yards away from the suspension bridge.

Scott said he felt chills reverberate throughout his body as he and his brother Kendall attempted to stall the girl by asking her if she was all right again.

Things were just falling apart for her, Scott said. “I asked her if it was Cornell, but she said she loved Cornell. It was Cornell that hated her.”

“She wanted us to leave her alone because if she didn’t do it now, she’d do it later and she didn’t want us to feel bad if she jumped,” Scott said. “My brother and I were thinking of trying to grab her,” Scott said, but they decided to wait for the professionals to handle the situation.

Cornell police officer Charles Alridge, who happened to be in the area, showed up at the scene in less than a minute after Idnani placed the call, according to Scott and Idnani.

“The girl took off her glasses to give to the policeman for her mother to remember her by,” Scott said. “The policeman took her glasses and then pulled her to the ground.”

“Crossing the bridge the next day, I walked real slow, looked down, and wondered what could have happened…” Idnani said.

“Whenever we walk over the bridge, it’s never the same,” Scott agreed.

Archived article by Janet Liao