Just after 5 p.m. last Thursday, an unusual email appeared in the inbox of the police department of Verona, New Jersey, a small town 20 miles west of New York City.
A Chinese student in the United Kingdom had been chatting online with a friend who said she was going to commit suicide, so he contacted police.
But the woman wasn’t in New Jersey. She was a Chinese art student living in Verona, Italy — some 4,000 miles away.
When Verona Police Chief Mitchell Stern read the email, he didn’t waste any time trying to contact European authorities.
Stern tried visiting the website of the Verona police in Italy but didn’t have any luck. Then he called the Italian Embassy in New York, but they were closed for the day. Finally he reached Interpol in Washington, D.C.
“Ultimately, through Interpol in Italy, it was disseminated to the Italian state police, who then dispatched police officers and an ambulance,” said Stern. “The girl was taken to the hospital and treated.”
This wasn’t the first time Stern has received messages intended for the city in northern Italy where “Romeo and Juliet” is set.
“We must have done a really good job with Google Analytics, because we come up as the top-ranked Verona Police if you were to Google ‘Verona police,'” said Stern. “I’ve received emails regarding Verona, Italy. I’ve received some regarding Verona, Wisconsin.”
But never have they been as urgent as the one Stern received on Thursday.
Luckily this tale of two cities has a happy ending. When the Italian police arrived at the woman’s apartment, they found her with cuts to her wrists near a bottle of antidepressants, but she survived.
A few days later, she wrote Stern an email to thank him, which he recounted:
“I am the girl in China who got saved by you, now in Verona, Italy. Though we didn’t know each other before, you really did help me a lot. I believe there’s millions of kind people like you. The lucky thing is I have the chance to write this letter to you and say thank you. No wonder I begin to enjoy everything around me at this moment — life is brilliant. I appreciate you telling me this. Nice meeting you sir. Can I have your reply back someday please?”
You might say all’s well that ends well, but Stern notes that this story shows that the stigma around mental illness is still present and causing people who suffer from it to endure their pain in silence. He hopes telling this woman’s story will help change that.
“We see no issue in going to the doctor when we fall down and injure our ankle or you wake up in the middle of the night with bad abdominal pains. No one has an issue calling 911,” he said. “But when, say, somebody’s brain hurts, we don’t do that.”