GAITHERSBURG, MD (NBC) - It started with a hysterical phone call from a woman who said her ex-boyfriend was threatening suicide at about noon on Tuesday.
Two Gaithersburg, Md., police officers in separate cruisers were near the area where the call originated -- the 9900 block of Shelburne Terrace. They responded to the area and spotted the man, who appeared well on his way to making good on his threat.
He was perched on the side of the Washingtonian Boulevard Bridge above the concrete sea of I-370. Master Police Officer Chris Jones approached him, saying, "Don't do this."
Master Police Officer John Duke hung back, tried to calm the ex-girlfriend, and called for backup.
A steel safety fence ran along the edge of the overpass. The man suddenly climbed to the wrong side of it. Nothing but air separated him -- and possibly a passing motorist -- from a grisly death.
Officer Jones raced for the fence, thrust his arms through the steel bars and grabbed the man at the last possible second. He shouted for help. Officer Duke charged over and reached through the fence. He was able to grab hold of one of the jumper's arms.
"Let me go, let me go, nobody cares," the man screamed, kicked and twisted violently.
"He screamed multiple times that he wanted to kill himself," Jones said. "He screamed multiple times that he wanted me to let him go. He yelled at my partner to let him go."
It was awkward, but together Jones and Duke held fast to him. The steel fence prevented them from pulling him back onto the bridge. They held on. Minutes passed.
Their hands and forearms burned from the exertion of holding onto the distraught, struggling man. They knew if they moved, they risked losing their grip. "I was just holding on for dear life," Duke said.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County police were blocking off the street below.
At one point, the jumper began putting his feet up on the bridge, and Duke hoped he was walking himself back toward safety. Instead, the man was trying to push off. "I'm losing him," both officers yelled.
More officers arrived on the scene from Gaithersburg and Montgomery County. Altogether it took 11 police officers to keep the man from leaping off the bridge.
County Fire & Rescue workers joined the effort. They arrived with an aerial tower and raised it up to the bridge. Additional firefighters cut through the metal fence with a heavy-duty saw. Once the fence was out of the way, they hoisted the man safely onto the bridge. He was taken to a hospital for an emergency evaluation.
MPO Duke and MPO Jones suffered minor injuries trying to keep the man alive. They were treated at a hospital but released the same day.
The officers have known each other since they played football together at Seneca Valley High School. Jones stands about 6' 5", and Duke about 5'6."
Things may have turned out differently if Jones had not been the first one to the bridge.
"He's a big guy with big hands," said Duke. "If he hadn't grabbed that guy -- nothing anybody else did would have mattered."
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