The Bridge (2006)

Written by Bev. Posted in movies, Reviews

The Bridge is a controversial film that documents the “suicide phenomenon” at The Golden Gate Bridge. In the span of January through December 2004, filmmaker Eric Steel continously filmed this bridge, known to be a mecca of sorts for those who want to end their lives, and was able to capture 23 of 24 suicides on film. It features real footage from these real suicides and suicide attempts, along with interviews with grieving family members, friends and witnesses to those suicides. The keyword here is “real”. It’s unlike comfortably watching a Hollywood movie with its professional stunts as a detached viewer, knowing it is all “just for show”. At first glance, it sounds kind of morbid and in many ways, it is. We are, after all, witnessing the final moments of someone’s life and this is all presented as a form of entertainment. But there seems to be some morbid curiosity innate in all of us, a curiosity about death, and this film really addresses that curiosity.

Some may criticize The Bridge on the basis of it perceivably glorifying suicide or perhaps, in some ways, encouraging it by romanticizing it. In reality, I think any film that undertakes such a taboo topic as suicide will invoke strong feelings on either end of the spectrum. It really depends on your perspective on it going into the film. For me, I thought the movie was disturbing, yes, because it’s surreal knowing that these people you are watching on your screen, as they plunge into the murky water, are no longer living and you are a virtual witness to someone’s death. One can even call it a snuff film. However, albeit disturbing, it still offers a candid and thought-provoking view on the topic. In some of the interviews with the family members, while you can see their hurt in losing a loved one, there’s also a sense of acceptance, that they are happy that their loved one is finally at peace and even an understanding of the reasons behind the act of suicide. These sentiments are also juxtaposed with an interview with John Kevin Hines, a survivor of the Golden Gate plunge. He tells his tale of how he struggled with bipolar disorder and one day, just snapping. He left school and took a bus to the bridge, where he later stood crying and contemplating taking his own life (even taking a photo for a tourist oblivious to what he was planning to do). Soon thereafter, he climbed over the barrier and jumped. As he was taking the 220 foot (67 m) plunge into the water below, a fall that takes just 4 seconds at 75 miles per hour (120 km/h), he almost instantly regretted his decision and decided to try his best to fall in a position that allowed him to live. And he did, surprisingly and miraculously.

The Bridge

The protagonist of this documentary, if you will, as he is the suicide victim prominently featured, is 34 year old Eugene “Gene” Sprague. Throughout the film, it shows him nonchalantly pacing back and forth on the bridge, with his long black hair blowing in the wind. We are also given insight into the life of Gene, shedding light as to who he was as a person in life and accentuating the fact that he, like all the other suicide victims, is more than just another statistic of Golden Gate Bridge suicides. His friends and those close to him tell of how he was severely depressed after his mother died and as a result, how he was feeling lost in life. Some of those interviewed seemed at peace with his decision, some were angry, but all wished that things could’ve worked out differently. At the end of the film, Gene sits on the ledge of the barrier and without any hesitation, he gets up to stand on the ledge and falls backward into the Pacific Ocean. The water ripples and then few seconds later, it is as if nothing had happened.

Another one of the memorable jumpers featured in the film is this older guy in what appears to be a matching sweat suit. He’s casually on his cell phone, talking and laughing as if having a grand old time. Watching his behaviour, it never occurred to me to think that this is one of the jumpers as the footage on the bridge does not include just suicides. After he finished talking on the phone, he puts his phone down and sits up on the ledge, facing the body of water below. With a quick sign of the cross, he jumps over. Meanwhile, as with a few other of the suicides captured on film, there are people in the background walking by or standing around appreciating the sights and sounds. There was even a couple within a few feet of Gene when he got ready to fall but they didn’t notice him or just didn’t do anything. However, there are a few instances of intervention by a by-stander in the film, including a man who managed to grab a girl standing on the beam on the outer edge of the bridge and pull her back to safety.

As you’re watching these people on the ledge or on the beam, getting ready to jump, you really wonder what’s going through their heads. What are they thinking as they step off or fall back into the unknown? Are they scared? Are they intoxicated with joy to be released from their mortal pain? And as they are free-falling, do they instantly regret it like John Kevin Hines did? Sadly, while the interviews to shed light on the suicide victims were interesting, the film itself feels lacking and dissatisfying as to addressing the inner-depths of the topic of suicide. As to what could be done to make The Bridge better, I don’t know, short of impossible notions such as bringing back the dead to truly understand the experience and the decision.

What I did ascertain from watching this film wasn’t necessarily a complete change of attitude toward suicide, nor do I believe that was the filmmaker’s intent, but rather two main ideas. One being the need for a suicide barrier for the bridge because while I am sure that those determined to end their lives will find a way to end it, making it that much more difficult will help deter some. The accessibility of the Golden Gate Bridge for Bay Area residents, the fact that there’s a small survival rate and it being relatively “unmessy”, are what makes the bridge such an alluring spot for suicide. Apparently, it’s a matter of economics and aesthetics that is causing the delay to erect this barrier to save lives. Secondly, one of the most moving parts of the film that really stuck with me was when they talked about a man who left a note in his apartment that said he would not jump from the Golden Gate Bridge if, on the way to the bridge, he met one person who smiled at him. The man jumped because no one smiled at him or greeted him and that was all it took to save his life. Living in our fast-paced and alienating world, where we are so consumed with our own lives, it’s moments like this when a light-bulb goes off and you realize that one small gesture toward another human being, a stranger even, can make all the difference. Sure, a meaningful smile or friendly word may not be all it takes to save a person’s life; however, maybe if we all took a moment out of our day to give a stranger a smile or a “hello”, the world could be a better place. One can imagine…

It should be noted that Eric Steel and his film crew had the bridge authority’s number on speed dial so that whenever they observed a person they deemed high risk to jump, they would call it in right away. As Steel noted, they were human beings first and filmmakers second. During that time of filming, Steel and his team saved six people, and one person more than once (ABC News).

The Bridge’s voyeuristic approach may be effective in revealing another dimension of suicide but for me, the result is mostly a feeling of inexplicable uneasiness, which can be expected considering the last scene. It might not be as enlightening as one may hope, but it may still be worth watching if not just for satisfying a morbid curiosity.

The Official Site

[rating:3]

 

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Comments (19)

  • pkh

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    Suicide is an impetuous act or the act of an ill person lacking the capacity to make a sane decision. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    Limiting access to the means of death has proven to dramatically reduce suicides.
    98% of those stopped never attempt suicide again.

    The rails at the Golden Gate Bridge are simply too low and access is too great. The rails of the bridge need to be raised.

    Four people try to die there every week and one succeeds.

    The true victims are the loved ones left behind many of which carry terrible emotional scars the rest of their lives…

    San Franciscans and the people of the Bay Area can no longer hide their collective heads in the sand – we are now well aware of the horror taking place and as such have a moral obligation to do something to end the deaths at the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Please help raise the rails – and end the tragic deaths

    Reply

    • Kate

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      People who are hurting will find a way to end their life whether the rails are raised or not.
      The pain for those left behind is hard but this is a film people need to see. I think it showed the anguish Gene experienced and for those of us who have been tormented with and attempted suicide, this film will touch something inside you.

      Reply

    • Rebecca

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      Watching this was such a sad exspearence. My husband committed suiside in 2011 we were married at the time for 18yrs. We have one son together which he is named after his father chris. My husband never talked about killing himself not even once. And the day before he committed suiside he was exstreamly happy. It breaks my heart when i hear someone has tooken their own life. Rebecca.

      Reply

  • Jamie G

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    Gene Sprague was my friend. I have not watched this movie because I don’t think it will make me feel any better about what happened. I worked with him for years and he taught me how to make 3D characters for games. He was a gentle genius that was a brilliant artist just like his mother. I can only hope now, that it’s done, that Cuervo the Ferret fell into good hands and has lived a happy life because all those that knew Gene will always have a sense of unhappiness knowing that he’s no longer around. RIP Gene, I’ll miss you and I’ll see you soon.

    Reply

  • Robbie B

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    Just watched The Bridge last night on the Documentary Channel. It brought up a lot of unsettling emotions and I have to say that I felt it to be a very disturbing film. It seemed to be more voyeuristic than educational. I kept watching because the person the film focuses on the most, a young man named Gene Sprague, looked remarkably like a young man I know. Gene’s death was tragic and his pain should never have been exploited in this film. My deepest condolences to the friends he left behind on that day, and to all those who have lost family/friends to suicide. R.I.P. Gene.

    Reply

  • Scott Z

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    I’m curious as to where phk got that figure “98% of those stopped never attempt suicide again” – most people who are “stopped” didn’t intend to kill themselves, but rather are crying out for attention.

    I would guess that 99.9% of those who truly wish to end their own lives are successful.

    Gene would likely fall into that catagory – I was angry about the filming of his death in that they filmed him for 90+ mins prior to his jump. I was mad because they could have called the cops or tried to stop him somehow – but I now realize based on the calm and peace with which he climed up to the railing & lept to his death that Gene truly wanted this. Had they stopped him that day he would have returned another. Had a barrier been erected, he’d have found another way – people are resourceful creatures, Gene included. It seems that a barrier might help to prevent suicide “attempts” – those people who don’t truly wish to die. However a barrier would not prevent truly suicidal people from carrying out the event they seek. “Limiting access to the means of death” is pretty tricky – raising the rails of the GG Bridge limits access to that means perhaps – then there’s household cleaners, alcohol, automobiles, tall buildings, firearms, power tools, locomotives, razor blades or rope. I’m sure I could like 100s of other ways that people could achieve the means to their end – so what good does raising a few guardrails really do to someone truly committed to ending thier life?

    To me the notion of a barrier on the GG Bridge would be something of a selfish act for the landmark – a kind of NIMBY approach to the problem. “Well people are going to kill themselves, but at least it won’t be off OUR bridge.”

    I didn’t know Gene at the end, but I am reasonably certain that he was sane. The notion that he was “incapable of making a sane decision” ignores the possibility that some people who are at full mental capacity could make a decision like this. Euthenasia is similar – if someone is in so much physical pain that asisted suicide is deemed by many to be not only sane, but also humane, then why does society have such a hard time accepting that someone could be in so much mental agony that a similar outcome might also be humane? A tragic decision to be certain, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an insane decision. Food for thought.

    RIP Gene.

    Reply

  • B. C.

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    The scene you describe of the man leaving a note in his apartment (about not killing himself should someone smile at him) was not in the movie. It was described in the New Yorker article that inspired the move.

    Reply

  • Dan

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    I think some people on here are a bit senseless and selfish. Everyone wants to feel bad for those left behind calling them the true victims. Tne what, the person who killed themself really isnt a victim? Seriously, pull your head out of you a@@. I see these people jumping and ending their life, and it makes me sad. I wonder what has happened or is happening to them that makes them feel like they shouldn’t be here anymore? For instance, the guy that left a note. Do you know how many times I feel extremely low and just hope a single person could say something nice so i can feel good again? How about you put yourself in these individuals shoes instead of ridicule them. Yes its sad for the families, but im sick and tired of hearing how selfish suicide victims are.. The people who are trully selfish are everyone else who immediately judges them and doesnt try to understand them.

    Perhaps your life is worth living and you do not feel the need to end it. Unfortunately that doesnt fall evenly across the board, and not everyone experiences life the same way. WHat may seem a selfish act to you, may in reality be a persons last hope of peace. Seriously, wtf is a councilor going to do? Pat you on the back and tell you to sing happy songs? Pump you full of medication? Stick you in a mental ward? Yep all those things would make me feel better about myself. No, at some point the person has to leave and go home…and perhaps go home to something that is trully horrific to themselves. Something you, and the phycologist does not have to deal with.

    my wife is my best friend, in my heart. My only friend. And often she treats me like crap. I cut my arm up and bled everywhere. Do you want to know what she said when she saw me? Seriously?

    “WTF are you doing, your nuts you need help. Now leave I am going to bed”

    After yelling at me all evening for something that was not my fault. I felt so low, and this is not the first time. But this time the pain hurt so bad, it didnt matter to me anymore. And then when i did hurt myself, that is what she responded with. Perhaps I go to the councilor…wtf do you think that is going to do. If my wife keeps treating me horribly how the F do you think a councilor is going to help? Yea i knwo divorse right? Except i love my wife and she means the world to me! Ever had someone so close to you that everything they felt, said, and did to you meant eveyrthing? And then that same person decides to be cruel?

    Yes I do think of my family. My mom, dad, and brother. I never want to hurt them, but at the same time is it right for me to live in complete and utter torment? I dont want to die, there is too much I want to do. But sometimes my wife makes me feel so bad, as in worst then trash. SO what, go to a councilor and talk only to come back home to a woman who feels everything has to be her way and if i deviate she can treat me as she feels is necessary?

    I have been called a bad father, a horrible husband, and worst. Why? Because i can’t cator to her every need. I am forced to stay up all night working on homework because if i do it during the day I get yelled at. Then I wake up late and I get yelled at anyway. I know, ill take some prozac, and write happy thoughts down…that will fix everything right. WRONG.

    So please, stop with the BS that the families are the true victims, put yourself in the suicide victims shoes.

    Reply

    • M

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      I know this was posted a year ago but I’m really concerned about your post. Have things gotten any better for you? Are you doing OK?

      Reply

  • Val

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    I can not, I find it hard to accept that people passing by did nothing to help these people, in the case of Gene particular, there were two people there, no one did anything, not bad given birth he recorded. That film, the director is a beast, he said he did not think Gene would be launched. The life will give back what he deserves. It hurt a lot to see that movie and see that people are increasingly callous and inhumane. But now he is in a better place or in the beauty of nothing.

    Reply

  • Al

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    This movie was filmed the year before I moved to San Francisco.
    2 years prior to that I had set up my belongings, made a will & purchased/got all the things I would need to commit suicide. I didnt tell a single person. I was extremely methodical in my plan, I had explained everything in several notes to different people.
    But right before doing the deed I felt that not having any idea whats on the other side was too much. What if you have to go through something worse? Before it gets better.
    So I called a suicide hotline. The man was cool, basically helped me realize I didnt utilize different stress technique’s (there are just so many ways, gotta find a couple that you love)
    I came to the conclusion that I could try some more things, if later on it didnt help I could always follow through with my plan.
    Nothing to lose.
    The reality is that some of us were abused, actually alot of us.
    Ive met so many people that cannot possibly understand, no matter how empathetic they may be, you do not understand the lifelong conflict created when somebody uses you when your a child if you havent been through it.
    Ive met many many many more people who were abused, like me. Some figure out ways to grieve & move on. Some souls cannot ever get over the pain. I am one of those people.

    I want to say that the victims are most certainly NOT the people left behind. The loved ones. They’re souls for whatever reason . . . . god, karma, take your pick, were supposed to experience that loss. Just like every single other person on the planet will at some point have to experience loss.
    And who are you to say that life is a gift? ? Maybe your life is a gift, maybe others are born into dysfunction, abuse, mental illness, alcoholism etc. Maybe some lives are a complete & total struggle not just at times but throughout! As is my case. Yes there have been times when it’s not so bad but it is never gone.
    Some things that happen in the past are so bad, go on for so long that they will remain with you forever. Some people have a continuous timeline. Others move forward without looking back because they were given the tools early.
    Mr Steel’s movie is fascinating to me. I have seen it so many times. When your on the bridge even if your close to someone it just isnt that easy to react super fast if they get on the railing.
    I dont judge the bystanders. I dont judge the people who make decisions for themselves, if this is what they really want to do they are the only one’s who will have to suffer the consequences. That includes hurting they’re family members & friends.
    I have contemplated the bridge. Not because its romantic. Not because of copycat suicide. Because its freakin beautiful!!!!!
    Because if you live here & youve made up your mind the last thing you would see is beauty.
    Because the bridge is nature & it’s man, which is exactly the human struggle . . . . nature vs. nurture.
    Because if your going to do something as serious as this with the will god gave you why not? Why choose a bathtub?
    Because maybe you’ve experienced the amazing beauty of this planet, experienced joy & it’s good enough for you. What if you truly dont have a single desire to participate anymore. Your fulfilled.
    Why judge anybody else? Did you walk a mile in their shoes? Did you grow up in their household? Do you know what their souls destination is?
    Eugene Sprague died in style, like he lived. I dont judge him or any of the others. I dont wonder what was going through their minds. I dont wonder, I hope. I hope that the next stage was better.
    I hope that god understood & made them feel ok & that even if they had to journey someplace unpleasant next it was the learning experience they needed to move forward.
    I hope they found some kind of peace . . . . before the next stage

    Reply

    • Shenonymous

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      Wow…speechless…couldn’t agree more.

      Reply

      • Trinity

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        Well fucking stated.

        Reply

  • bombergal

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    There’s been research conducted on other suicide attractions that proves deterrents work. The sick of mind don’t intend to focus only on themselves. It’s a part of their affliction. Much like denial, depression and mental illness create a sort of tunnel vision and if someone is prevented from accessing their method of choice by which to end their personal torture, it does not mean they have the wherewithal to go elsewhere …at least not without some measure of thought and this takes time. Sometimes this rethinking pause is all it takes to prevent another attempt. The Golden Gate is beautiful as it stands, but with this new information, we cannot ignore its legacy. It’s time to install some type of barrier.

    Reply

  • Al

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    Hi there, Im the same person who wrote above, last year.
    Something inside me today told me to go back & find the article I left that message on. . . . strange its exactly a year ago?
    So here I am. While I read it now I still feel strongly the same way EXCEPT I have learned alot this year!
    I would like to share in case it helps anybody.
    THE METAPHYSICS OF SUICIDE
    Suicide is not an option. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” For some the answer is “yes, yes, I know if I commit suicide in this life I will only have to come back where I left off, but I don’t care. I’ll take a break & come back again, finish this business another time. Maybe I can take it then.” For others it is “No, I’m a Christian, we don’t believe in reincarnation.”
    Well, Christians believed in it once upon a time, It was even in the Bible until 564 a.d. but the Roman Emperor of that time, Constantine, desired to go down in history forever as a king & so he ordered the pope to have all reference to reincarnation removed from the Bible. The people of the time were ignorant but they were not stupid, the emperor Constantine knew his people would not respond well to his greedy directive. So he told them instead that the belief in reincarnation was placed in the Bible by heretic Christians, that it was heresy & therefore evil. Within a couple of generations such belief in reincarnation by the Christians was all but forgotten.”
    So, if you believe in reincarnation & you are considering suicide, then consider this: you will have to come back just where you left off, but the reality of existence is such that in order to destroy yourself, your energy will slide downward to such a very low point that you will actually be sliding back in virtual life-times!
    The vibrational level you then exist in at the very instant the soul leaves the physical body (the moment you KILL yourself) is the same vibrational level you will return to on your next go around. . . You may be repeating many, many life-times just to get back to ground zero!
    People who commit suicide do so only one time in the realm of reincarnation. They realize, too late, that it would have been far easier to see this lifetime through to its original destiny.
    If one does not believe in reincarnation then consider this: Have your ever heard of seventh heaven? Just as there are degrees of growth on earth, there are degrees or levels of existence in spirit. The number seven represents spiritual perfection, the perfect spiritual place is in seventh heaven. That means there are many degrees in between. Any hopes of meeting up with your loved ones when one commits suicide is practically nil, for your loved one is working on a different plane of spiritual existence from you. In a sentence, you were not supposed to take your own life in order to meet up with someone on the other side who did it God’s way.
    They say there are two things God cannot do: God cannot hate & God cannot help those who are unwilling to help themselves. The metaphysics of suicide is such that if one can manage to make it through their darkest hour, if one can refrain from destroying him or herself, if he or she can give up all thought or intention of suicide, then the next step beyond that will be a huge shift in one’s consciousness, in the understanding of what their life purpose is to be for them. They automatically move closer into God’s arms.
    SUICIDE IS ALWAYS PERFORMED JUST PRIOR TO A PARADIGM SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS! This is one of the Universal Laws.
    “But what of Hiri Kiri?” I have been asked. “Wasn’t that a form of suicide performed by the Japanese as an honorable death?”
    “Yes,However, just as the church no longer burns people at the stake in an attempt to chase the devil out of one’s soul, so has consciousness been raised beyond the level of Hiri Kiri into becoming self-realized, receiving new illumination in this life-time.
    In essence, suicide is not an option. We all have a life purpose, a destiny we chose before we stepped foot onto earth. With this life purpose comes life issues. Life issues are like weights we use at the gym to build muscle. Just as we need the right kind of weight to resist against our muscles in order to build them, so do we need just the right kind of life issues to go against our life purpose in order to build spiritual muscle. The very thing we resist the most is usually the issue we need to confront, in some way it is helping us to build strength in our life purpose.
    Instead of giving up & committing suicide, which accomplishes absolutely nothing, give up, surrender to your higher purpose & a shift in consciousness will take place – keep at this giving up to your higher purpose long enough and it will happen. It must. It is another universal law.

    Note: A powerful affirmation to reach this level is: “God, I need a miracle. You know better than I do what it is that I am supposed to do with my life. I wish to live in peace and harmony and to live my life purpose. Show me what to do and how to do it. So be it.”
    Also “I am abundant. My abundance flows from all directions & I relax, go with the flow. I now live in peace & harmony, doing all things in the realm of my life’s purpose. So be it.”

    ALSO: Personality disorders are an emotional construction that protects the individual from his or her circumstances, usually traumatic life experiences. It also is true that there is a co-relation between certain disorders & high intelligence. Intelligent minds are more creative, they have the power & neural connections to transform thoughts into permanent neural connections. This helps the person survive their trauma, but then it turns against the person …the neural map becomes toxic, keeps needing to enforce itself even when the trauma no longer exists. It creates the trauma in a different way. We all recreate our trauma. And its recreating that “trauma” but not understanding or realizing your doing it that makes you suicidal in many cases.

    For me personally, I said before it’s never gone. Thoughts of suicide were with me for 40 years. I was so close to jumping off the Bridge last year, its why I wrote. Writing how I felt really helped me NOT do it. And here I am :o) Maybe I will think about it again but what I learned in 2012 made the difference. So its true, keep making sure you dont do the deed and THERE WILL COME A TIME WHEN IT TOO SHALL PASS! Even if it takes awhile. Dont give up on yourself!! Your special even if you were taught & told otherwise.

    Reply

  • Jan Edwards

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    The Bridge

    Wish I never watched this documentary

    I can’t stop crying

    Reply

    • swalk

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      I read your comment you posted in 2013 on the awesomeness.net site regarding the documentary The Bridge, where you said: ” Wish I never watched this documentary. I can’t stop crying.’ Its 2016, and I wish I never watched it but I am glad I did, even though I still wish I hadn’t. If anything, I am more willing to learn about suicide and why people decide that is the only way out. I mean, of course I have heard and read why people choose to do it but I never actually saw someone do it. I never heard what their families or friends had to say because its hard to go and ask someone why their friend or family member took their life. I know of four people personally who did so, one who took her life a week ago. The Bridge gave me a whole new perspective on the subject and actually, what I can do to help another human being in dire straits. Don’t wait, act is what I have learnt. Bye

      Reply

  • Jessica

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    We all need God. That is what we need. There is a real enemy out there, and he comes to steal , kill, and destroy. But greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world. If you truly search for God with all your heart, and ask him to reveal him self to you. I promise you he will, some way some how. And you will have no dought that it was from god. We need to repent and ask God for forgiveness on a daily basis. And we need to accept his son Jesus christ as lord and savior. As for Gene, we have no idea what his last words were, before he fell to his death. He could have accepted christ right before he fell. You are going to be surprised At who you will see in heaven, and who you won’t. There are going to be people you think would be in heaven who will not be there. And people you thought would not make to heaven, be in heaven, because God Judges you by whats in your heart. God always truly sees and deals with the heart of the matter. And my heart is deeply saddened For Gene Sprague. I truly hope he made it to Heaven. And like I said we don’t know what Gene’s last words were.

    Reply

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