80-year-old hero of Sky Tower drama

An 80-year-old minister has told how he spent an hour persuading a mental health patient to cherish the gift of life and not jump, as they both stood 192m above the ground outside the Sky Tower.

The patient demanded to speak to a Jehovah's Witness after scaling a safety fence and threatening to jump during an organised 3pm walk on the viewing deck on Saturday.

Police called Graham Browne, a minister at the Avondale Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, and soon after, he was at the top of the tower trying to talk the man down by reading from the Bible.

Mr Browne is adamant he did not do anything extraordinary. But he recounted the exceptional circumstances of his part in the drama.

"The police called to say they had this situation and would I be prepared to help," he said. "I didn't hesitate a bit; they were saying it was urgent."

But "to be honest, I didn't think I'd be hanging out on the edge of the Sky Tower."

Mr Browne asked a friend, also a member of the church, to go with him.

"As we drove, my friend was asking, 'What are you going to say?' What came into my mind very quickly was that a life's at stake, so I'm going to try to get him to recognise that life is a gift and it's very precious and something to be cared for."

The man had left the Waikato District Health Board's Henry Rongomau Bennett mental health centre in Hamilton hours before joining the Sky Tower tour.

Once on the platform, he walked around without safety restraints and refused to go back inside.

Mr Browne was taken up the tower and met by police officers at the viewing deck.

About an hour later, he was fitted with a safety harness and had to empty his pockets and take off his wedding ring. Officers taped his glasses to his face and attached his Bible to his harness with a separate cord so there was no chance of him dropping anything from the tower.

"I went out there and the negotiator was sitting there talking to him. I read the words from the Bible again and said, 'These are the words you've got to remember.'

"I started talking to him about life being a gift and if he gave somebody a gift he would hope they would treat it with decency.

"I said, 'I understand you believe in a creator. Please consider that and treat this life you have with respect'."

Mr Browne read one of the Bible passages the man had mentioned - John 3.16, which says: "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

Said Mr Browne: "I read those words to him. I read them about 20 times ... I could see him sitting on the edge with his back to me and I kept asking him, 'Please turn around. I would like to see your face'. He wasn't paying any attention at all.

"Then I realised he was sitting there on the edge waving his arms around, and talking. I knew he couldn't be talking to the people on the ground because they were more than 200m below.

"I've seen people like him in other situations and they've got voices in their heads - they're hearing things.

"I said to the negotiator, 'There are evil spirits talking to him ... and we've got to beat them'. So I just kept telling him to stop listening to those voices.

"I read the words from the Bible again and said, 'These are the words you've got to remember ... That's the truth, that's from God, not these evil spirits talking to you'."

Eventually, the man pulled one of his legs up over the edge and looked as though he was going to move back.

Mr Browne and the negotiator pleaded with him to come to them.

"Eventually he moved and then he stood up. We encouraged him to come a bit closer. As he started to shuffle along I said, 'It's lovely to see you. Now I'm going to be able to show you what's written here'."

The man came close to where Mr Browne was standing in a caged enclosure by the viewing-deck doors, but would not go all the way in.

"Then he started telling me his story. He'd been visited by some Jehovah's Witnesses and he'd told them to go away and he was so, so sorry he'd done that.

"He wanted to be forgiven for that and I said, 'Of course you're forgiven - we all do things like that'."

The pair chatted about religion and the man seemed to calm down.

"And then something came into my head, I said, 'Can I please interrupt you for a moment? I've got to tell you I'm scared stiff'. He replied, 'Oh, I'm so sorry you're scared'.

"I said, 'No, I'm actually scared for you. I'm hooked on here, I'm safe. But you're moving around and ... if you make a false step, you're gone'.

"A short time later he said, 'Okay, I'll come in now'. I will always remember the words," said Mr Browne.

The patient walked to safety and police officers handcuffed him and took him away.

Said Mr Browne: "It was a relief. All the time I was up there I was perfectly calm, no question."

After a cup of tea, he returned home.

"I just gave thanks how wonderful it was that it worked out. I was so impressed by the way the police were all there, just doing their bit.

"It was a wonderful team effort - they did a magnificent job.

"I just did my bit. I obviously fit this poor man's requirements."

Several police officers, including Auckland district commander Mike Clement, later contacted Mr Browne to thank him for his assistance.

Yesterday, relieving area commander Vaughn Graham told the Herald Mr Browne had built up a rapport with the man which resulted in the patient being taken safely into custody for health treatment.

"Despite the wind, the height, the cold and the difficult task, Mr Browne did a wonderful job."

Add a Comment