Shortly after ten-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, March 19th, a real-estate agent named Paul Alarab began hiking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Midway along the walkway, which carries pedestrians and cyclists between San Francisco and Marin County, he stopped and climbed the four-foot safety railing. Then he lowered himself carefully onto the bridge’s outermost reach, a thirty-two-inch-wide beam known as “the chord.” It is on the chord, two hundred and twenty feet above San Francisco Bay, that people intending to kill themselves often pause. On a sunny day, as this day was, the view is glorious: Angel Island to the left, Alcatraz straight ahead, Treasure Island farther off, bisecting the long gray tangent of the Bay Bridge, and, layered across the hills to the south, San Francisco.
Alarab turned and looped a thick rope over the railing, then wound it around his right wrist five times and grabbed it with his gloved right hand. His weekday attire usually consisted of a business suit with a “Peace” T-shirt underneath, but today he wore black gloves, black shoes, black pants, a black T-shirt, and black sunglasses. Through the palings of the bridge rail and the rush of traffic, he could see the mouth of the Bay to the west and the Pacific beyond. Clasping a typed statement to his chest with his left hand, he leaned backward, away from the railing, and waited for help to arrive.
Alarab, a forty-four-year-old Iraqi-American, was a large, balding, friendly man who kept a “No Ha...