SRJC student survives jump off Golden Gate Bridge and is thankful at second chance

Thorton “Thor” McKay is grateful to be alive after attempting suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 27, 2022. He urges students to have a reliable support system when they feel hopeless.
Thorton “Thor” McKay is grateful to be alive after attempting suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 27, 2022. He urges students to have a reliable support system when they feel hopeless.
Michael Combs

On a cool and cloudy late December afternoon, Thorton “Thor” McKay hopped a bus from Santa Rosa to San Francisco, texted his favorite instructor goodbye and exited at the Golden Gate Bridge near the toll booths.

He walked onto the bridge’s bay side and found an opening. Then McKay jumped.

Somehow he survived. Of the estimated 1800 people who have jumped, fewer than 40 have lived.

It was a moment when the disillusioned 23-year-old’s turbulent upbringing collided with a series of tribulations he faced as a disabled student at Santa Rosa Junior College. 

“I was in my darkest place, and when that happens I’m like, ‘Fuck life, fuck everyone and fuck everything,’” he said.

McKay, a political science major, said in his three years at SRJC, he felt the greatest burden on his mental health in the fall 2022 semester.

He has felt isolated and lacked a solid support system for most of his life. At age 8, Child Protective Services took McKay from his parents, who were emotionally abusive and suffered from substance abuse disorders, and moved him to a group home, a foster home licensed to provide care for multiple children. His new living situation wasn’t much of an improvement, so he ran back to his parents in Lake County when he was 13, and stayed there for two years.

“It was a bad environment. I got to the point where I realized I need to be more successful,” McKay said. “I called the police, and they came to bring me back to a group home.”

McKay now lives in an apartment run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society called Home for Success, a program designed to help at-risk youth through college by providing a stable home and access to an onsite, live-in mentor-coach.

The list of mental illnesses he has been diagnosed with is long, he said, but includes depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, cognitive delays and PTSD from childhood trauma. Mckay has taken Abilify, a drug used to treat major depressive order and bipolar disorder, since he was 6.

Despite his life with mental illness, McKay said he felt he was stable, positive and looking forward to the fall semester.

That began to change mid-September when McKay witnessed a woman overdosing. He was walking on Morgan Street under the bridge near the Third Street intersection, when he noticed a woman having a seizure. He dialed 911 and the paramedics came and managed to save her with Narcan, an opioid antagonist used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. He stuck around and watched a fireman fish the woman’s wallet out of a basket nearby.

“The name of the ID they found in the wallet was Eileen Sumi McKay. My mom. I didn’t even recognize her. She’s 50 and looks like she’s 85,” McKay said.

He knew his mom had moved to Santa Rosa and been kicked out of her apartment because of her drug use, but never expected to run into her like this. He didn’t have the will to stay or follow her to the hospital. “I was so done at the moment that I just ran,” Mckay said. He hasn’t had contact with her since.

“It just sucked. She could have done so much with her life,” he said. “She’s alive, but I don’t know for how long. Her motto should be NFL, because she’s ‘Not For Long’ in this world.”

The encounter shook McKay, and he said this was the moment he began slipping into his dark place. His apathy grew to the point that he stopped taking his Abilify cold turkey in late October, about two months before he attempted suicide.

“Everything was beginning to feel bad, to feel like garbage,” he said.

Then came a series of “discriminatory” events Mckay said he experienced from being an SRJC student who gets aid from the Disability Resources Department (DRD). 

The first episode occurred on the first day of his Math class. The instructor called out McKay for being a DRD student in front of the class and said the subject would be too challenging for him, McKay said. He was so disillusioned that he dropped the class the next week.

Mckay also felt he didn’t get recognition he deserved from SRJC organizations outside of the DRD department. He said EOPS, a program to support low-income, educationally disadvantaged students, failed to give him adequate support when he spoke with their counselors because they said he didn’t seem to be struggling. 

“It made me feel like the fact that I’m disabled and grew up in a poor and abusive environment was insignificant,” McKay said.

Despite his alleged unfair treatment, McKay’s faith that disabled students have as much potential as anyone else wasn’t shaken. His support of disabled students moved the president of the Disabled Students Union, Delashay Carmona Benson, to make him co-president of the club. His first act was to change the club’s name to Universally Empowered Students. 

“The word disability has a negative stigma about it. It makes us sound like we aren’t capable,” McKay said.

By November Mckay said he was in a vulnerable state, but working with the Universally Empowered Students helped him maintain stability. He threw his energy into helping to organize a multi-club event called “Tea with Tea” planned for Nov. 30. When college administrators abruptly canceled the event, “It broke my spirits completely,” he said.

McKay claims Vice President of Student Services Robert Ethington canceled the event because of discord between Student Services personnel and Carmona Benson, the event’s main organizer.

An email attempt to reach Ethington about the reason he canceled the event resulted in a response from Interim Director of Government and Public Relations Sarah Laggos, who said that “the ‘Tea with Tea’ event was canceled because the event-approval process was not followed.” McKay is skeptical of this because of the time he spent planning the event with multiple students, including Carmona Benson, who is familiar with the campus event approval process.

After the event’s cancellation, McKay fell deeper into his dark place and began to openly speak about hurting himself. He said his communications instructor was notified of this, and asked to call SRJC District Police. Two officers showed up in the middle of class on Dec. 14 and took McKay out of his Garcia Hall. They spoke with him while two more officers waited outside in a police car.

“When you’re in the disabled community, it’s super scary to talk to police officers, and that was traumatic,” he said.

Besides providing him with unneeded stress, McKay felt District Police didn’t do much for him. “They asked me about what was happening. I told them I was thinking about self-harming myself. All they told me was ‘I’m sorry to hear that. We don’t want you to do that. There’s help for you,’ and then they walked out,” Mckay said.

Thomas Dang, a student who was in McKay’s communication studies class, confirmed that SRJC police came into the classroom and pulled McKay out to talk to him, then allowed him to return to class.

Two days later, McKay said Ethington called him on behalf of B-CARE, or the SRJC Behavioral Consultation, Assessment, Response & Education team designed to intervene before a student crisis occurs. Much like the conversation with District Police, Mckay said Ethington didn’t offer much support.

“He asked me about what I was planning to do this week. I told him I was going to watch a movie with friends. Then he was like, ‘Anything you need help with?’ I said, ‘Some mental health videos might be nice.’ He said, ‘Good to know,’ and that was it,” Mckay said. “He didn’t ask how I was feeling or attempt any real conversation.”

Ethington was asked about the conversation by email, and Laggos responded with “…we do not disclose personal or private information related to students.”

Despite broken promises, perceived discrimination and the sudden halt in medication, McKay hadn’t given up all hope. He tried to find support by seeing a therapist through Student Health Services toward the end of the semester, but he said once again he found SRJC resources lacking. He only felt comfortable with one therapist, Dr. Corey Timberlake, but Mckay found it difficult to make a follow-up appointment. He eventually gave up on student health.

The end of the semester only brought more stress and darkness to McKay’s mental state. December is a difficult month for him because he doesn’t have a supportive family to spend the holidays with. McKay’s loneliness was compounded by his birthday on Dec. 18.

“It was the build-up from seeing my mom OD and everything with the junior college. It led up to December. Once December hit — Christmas time, birthdays, shitty situations — I was like, I’m done with this,” McKay said.

On his birthday he began planning his jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

“When I look back at the way I was, it’s a little uncomfortable because I couldn’t control it. Like I was being mind-controlled,” he said, referring to the anxiety influencing his rational thinking.

Two days after Christmas, Mckay took a bus from Santa Rosa to the bridge. The only person he contacted on the way was his philosophy instructor Sarah Whylly. He said he sent her a text as a “hidden goodbye note,” which said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going toward my final destination. Thank you, have a great day and an amazing life.” 

Whylly called 911 as well as SRJC District Police who began coordinating together. “They went above and beyond to help Thor,” she said. 

However, local police didn’t know where McKay was heading.

When the bus stopped near the toll booths of the Golden Gate Bridge a little after 3 p.m., McKay got off and walked straight to the bay side of the bridge. Although he has a fear of heights and of drowning, the phobias never emerged as he searched the railings. He found an opening next to a father with his child. Without hesitation, he jumped. 

Mckay then fell more than 200 feet in four seconds and plunged into the black water below at speeds approaching 80 mph. The impact punctured his lung, tore his esophagus and broke the second and seventh vertebrae in his back.

“I was planning to belly-flop, but I tipped over as I climbed the railing, which made me twist and fall on my back,” Mckay said.

Miraculously, he remained conscious after the fall. McKay said he almost landed on rocks, which he used to steady himself from the waves around him.

The U.S. Coast Guard came to his rescue. Officers didn’t realize he was conscious until they saw him spit up water. They were amazed he was even alive and told Mckay his survival must have been due to the unusually high waves that day — there was a five-foot swell.

The Coast Guard took McKay to Marin Health, where he stayed for two weeks until moving to Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa for another two weeks. He was bedridden for a total of two-and-a-half weeks and is now doing physical therapy to recuperate. Mckay thinks physical therapy and walking outside will be good for his mental health.

“I love walking in the rain; something about it feels nice,” he said.

Doctors told McKay he would be able to run in six months and will regain 90% of his normal function in eight months to a year. They said he would never reach a 100% recovery.

Ever since his jump, McKay has been grateful for a second chance at life and looks forward to making the most of it.

“I look back on that, and, man, that’s the worst, darkest feeling I was ever in,” he said. “I’m glad where I’m at. I’m glad I get a second opportunity, and right now I’m just trying to live every day at the moment and strive to be a better me.”

He is back on Abilify and is regularly seeing a therapist at Sonoma County Health Services Behavioral Health Division.

McKay knows there’s a chance he could fall into that dark place again. If that happens he may not be able to think rationally, so he’s working on a plan of action to keep him safe until he can contact the proper support.

“I’m going to have a coping mechanism until I can call somebody who’s a friend to help,” he said.

McKay wants other students who may find themselves in their own dark place to know that there’s always a way to find the right support. He believes that if someone had called him before he jumped, he wouldn’t have gone through with it.

“The last thing you want is to be in your darkest moment, and end up like the next Thorin,” he said. “I want people who may be in a similar spot like me to find someone they can go to when they need help.”

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About the Contributor
Michael Combs
Michael Combs, Editor
Michael Combs (he/him) is in his fifth semester writing for The Oak Leaf, and his second as co-Editor-In-Chief. He began taking natural resources management classes at Santa Rosa Junior College to pursue his love of nature and the environment but has shifted toward journalism so he can share those passions with the world. Besides the environment, Michael also likes to write about politics, social justice and mental health. He has a bachelor’s of science in neuroscience and mammalian physiology from the University of California, San Diego, and hopes to get back to his roots with more science journalism as well. In his off time Michael likes to read, write and hike as often as possible in beautiful Sonoma County and beyond.

Comments (16)

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  • W

    Whitney E. EadsMar 25, 2024 at 1:56 pm

    I went to nursing school with your momma. I had the pleasure of watching her parent you and your brother before things got all sideways. I pray you hold your strength and light. Your mom was a beautiful soul and I am so saddened to hear of her striggles and passing. Wishing you all the best. ❤️

    • T

      ThortonMar 28, 2024 at 10:19 pm

      Whenever you get the chance i have so many questions.

  • M

    Miles M.Dec 1, 2023 at 7:51 am

    I’m finding this article much later than intended and I feel a bit floored – I had a similar harrowing experience around the exact same time this happened to him, also around my own December birthday and also for bipolar and my more internalized struggles with disability. What a small, peculiar world. I hope that if this comment ever comes your way – I really hope it does – that you know you aren’t really alone, Thor. Nearly every experience here is something I’ve also carried with me. I hope that if the club you planned ever did become fully realized that I’d go, I’d love to talk or something one day.

  • L

    LauraApr 27, 2023 at 5:11 am

    You saved your mother’s life (miracle one), had your life saved (miracle two), and are speaking out to save others (miracle three). May you have a life of peace and love and wake each day with the knowledge that others are grateful for your presence.

  • G

    GennyMar 6, 2023 at 12:17 pm

    I think that God saved you for a reason. You were meant to live and inspire others to live their best life, and to never give up. There are times when we feel overwhelmed, but can find a reason to go on. For me it was my baby, I couldn’t bear to leave her alone. You are very brave and are helping many people with your story. God bless.

  • I

    IrisMar 3, 2023 at 1:06 am

    Thor I hope you see this because I have no other way to contact you but you are destined for greatness my friend!! you were the highlight of the day when we had comm 1! Sending love your way.

  • A

    AllisonMar 2, 2023 at 1:15 am

    THOR, I am grateful 🙏 for your life after reading this miraculous event! The world needs you just the way you are!

  • M

    MokshaMar 1, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    Please read: Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt – by Kevin Hines
    It’s an amazing story much like yours and I think it will give you some comfort. Be well and remember: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    You cannot save your mom but you can save yourself.
    Bless you.

    • K

      KrisJul 5, 2023 at 12:17 pm

      The problem is that Hines is basically leading a life that adheres to quite strict regimens and requires medication that if they fall outside of certain parameters, could lead him back to the beginning of it all.
      Not sure that’s a quality of life but that’s for him to decide. Personally, if being medicated is what’s needed to get through the years I’d rather take a pass.

  • L

    Leslie WintersMar 1, 2023 at 9:20 am

    We are all so grateful that you are alive and here to tell your story Thor. You inspire me and many others around you. Thank you

  • G

    GingerFeb 28, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    I’m so glad you survived Thor. You must know how special you are to have survived. You have something very important to do yet on Earth.

  • J

    JohnFeb 28, 2023 at 10:50 am

    Remember to be kind to those around you as you don’t know what they are going through or what they’ve been through.

  • J

    Joana WeberFeb 28, 2023 at 9:51 am

    God bless you to share your life story,I know was hard, yes I said was harder because from now on you going to looking forward and you will do your best to survive a new life was gave to you a second chance. And you gave hope to many people struggling with abuse, with drug and suffering with loneliness. I hope you find someone understand you and make you life more enjoyable.

  • K

    KarenFeb 28, 2023 at 9:38 am

    You got your gut ! Just keep going! Most of all, tie yourself with God , 100% !

  • R

    Rebekah EvansFeb 28, 2023 at 7:54 am

    Praying for him- life is so hard, but God obviously has plans for him. God bless him!

  • D

    Delashay Carmona BensonFeb 28, 2023 at 12:21 am

    You are an AMAZING human Thor! We all love you and you’re strength. Mental Health is so important. Please know that you are not alone. We (The Fam) are here for you always. Professor Sarah is amazing. We all love her! I will keep fighting for your rights of speech and demand changes so that all students feel safe and belonging at SRJC.

    Great job Michael! You Rock \m/*&*\m/!!!