The apparent suicide of a 24-year-old man at the Disneyland Resort in southern California on Wednesday evening has resulted in unimaginable grief and emotional anguish for those who knew and loved him.
It has also spurred questions about why suicides take place at Disney Parks, why they happen at all, and whether there’s anything Disney can do to help put an end to the growing and devastating trend, as Thursday’s incident marks the third suicide at Disneyland in less than a year and the sixth since 2010.
Police Respond to Calls About a Man Jumping From a Disney Structure
At approximately 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening, officers with the Anaheim Police Department responded to a call at 1100 West Magic Way about someone having jumped from the Pixar Pals parking structure at Disneyland Resort, according to a spokesperson for the department, Sgt. Jon McClintock. Upon their arrival, officers found a man at the scene. He was deceased, and police are now investigating his death as a suicide.
The man was later identified as 24-year-old Jonah Alexander Edwards by the Orange County Coroner’s Office.
The Third Suicide in Just Months at the Resort
Edwards’s death marks the third suicide to take place at Disneyland since December 2022.
Christopher Christensen, 51, jumped to his death from the six-level Mickey and Friends Disneyland parking structure on Saturday evening, December 3, 2022. A beloved elementary school principal from Huntington Beach, California, Christensen penned a long post on his Facebook account only hours before he was found deceased after an apparent jump from the parking structure.
The post read as though it was meant to serve as his suicide note, Christensen’s public farewell, and an explanation for the decision to end his life.
“I hate when people leave this Earth with so many unanswered questions,” Christensen wrote, “so I hope this provides some insight and perspective.”
On Saturday evening, February 18, 2023, Anaheim Police officers arrived at the scene of Disney’s six-story parking garage, responding to multiple calls about a woman “falling or jumping” from the structure. When they arrived, they discovered 46-year-old Marney Schoenfeld, 46, lying on the ground.
Paramedics immediately began administering care aimed at saving Schoenfeld’s life, but shortly thereafter, she was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced deceased. Anaheim Police said Schoenfeld’s death was being investigated as a suicide.
The Prevalence of Suicides Carried Out at Disney Parks
In 2022 alone, there were more than 300 suicides in Orange County, California, home to Disneyland Resort, and with each incident, the general public was likely none the wiser, as most of them weren’t reported in the national media. But on the evening of December 3, 2022, when Christopher Christensen took his life at Disneyland, the terrible tragedy was immediately headline news fodder online and on television, bringing renewed attention to suicides that take place at Disney Parks.
Suicides at Disneyland Resort
As of the time of this post, there have been nine reported suicides at Disneyland Resort, the first of which took place on September 3, 1994, when a 75-year-old man jumped from a ninth-floor balcony at the Disneyland Hotel. Of those nine incidences at Disneyland, three have taken place at the Disneyland Hotel (1994, 1996, and 2008), and six have taken place at a parking structure on the property (2010, 2012, 2016, 2022, and two in 2023, including Edwards’s death on Wednesday evening).
Suicides at the Walt Disney World Resort
At the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida, there have been four reported suicides as of the time of this publication.
On March 4, 2020, officers with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Reedy Creek emergency responders arrived at Disney’s Contemporary Resort after receiving reports from Guests who said they saw a woman jump from the structure. When police arrived, the woman, later identified as 22-year-old Jasmine Samuels, was unresponsive.
Samuels was a former Cast Member who worked as a valet at Disney Springs, according to police reports, and her mother told officers that she had a previous diagnosis of schizophrenia. Samuels’s mother further told officers that her daughter had taken her medication the evening before and that on the day of the incident, she didn’t appear to be in a “bad state.”
Of the four suicides to have taken place at the Walt Disney World Resort, one was carried out at EPCOT (1992), one at the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel (2010), and two at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (2016 and 2020).
Each of the nine deaths at Disneyland and the four deaths at Disney World has brought untold grief to those whose lives have been forever punctuated by these tragic losses. And each one continues to raise at least two very important questions: Why do suicides take place at Disney Parks? And does Disney have a responsibility to help prevent them?
Why Do Suicides Take Place at Disney Parks?
At first glance, suicides taking place on Disney property can seem nearly inconceivable. The self-proclaimed Happiest and Most Magical Places on Earth hardly seem like locations at which an individual might choose to commit suicide. But according to a University of California at Irvine psychiatrist, there’s more to it than that.
A Psychiatrist Weighs In
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a specialist in suicide prevention, says that an individual’s decision on where to commit suicide can vary from case to case, and it often comes down to the accessibility of the location.
“The reason for that is it simply appears to people to be really accessible,” Dr. Kheriaty explained. “[Individuals] can walk onto an overpass, and a police officer isn’t going to stop them from jumping, most likely. Probably, they just look around and say, “What’s the highest spot I can gain pedestrian access to?” But Kheriaty stresses that suicides often happen as impulses.
Impulsivity and Accessibility
“Suicide is very often impulsive,” Dr. Kheriaty explains. “The person is often ambivalent. People who jumped and survived, when asked what they were thinking, it’s typically, ‘What did I just do? I can’t believe I did this.’”
Over the years, suicide incidences at the parks that have involved Guests leaping from a hotel balcony or parking structures have given rise to the question of whether Disney has any responsibility in helping to deter individuals from jumping from tall structures on property owned by Disney.
Dr. Kheriaty says when measures are implemented, they can have a significant impact.
Should/Can Disney Help to Prevent Suicides in the Parks?
“You can put up a barrier–if it slows them down, if it makes them think, if they have to struggle more to do it, that may be enough to prevent them in that moment,” he said, explaining that there are two parts to the equation when it comes to a person committing suicide in a public place.
“People typically think there’s only one side of the equation, and that’s the decision on the part of the person [to commit suicide],” Dr. Kheriaty explains. “The person needs to not only have the decision and resolve, but they have to have the means available. If the means aren’t immediately available or they think it’s not going to work, they may botch it, then they’re likely not to act on the suicidal thoughts.”
Success at the Eiffel Tower
“The Eiffel Tower was a hot spot [for suicides] until they erected a barrier. St. Peter’s Basilica was a hot spot. The Empire State Building was a hot spot,” Dr. Kheriaty explained. “Suicides went down to very few to zero at these places when they did something about it.”
The Eiffel Tower was first erected in 1889, and from then until 2015, nearly 400 people lost their lives as a result of jumping from the structure. But since 2015, after increased security measures were implemented and netting was added as a deterrent, that number has dropped drastically.
Could the Same Ring True at Disney Parks?
Perhaps the same could be said for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, should The Walt Disney Company decide to take the steps to install netting and other deterrents, including wide bases of trees and shrubs around the perimeter of the parking structures at Disneyland Resort.
The addition of extra security personnel in areas at both resorts that give guests access to high structures could also help deter individuals from reaching locations from which they could jump.
Greater Awareness, Less Stigma
Overall, a greater awareness of suicide prevention, as well as about mental health, is needed. Those in need of help should have access to it–without the stigma that often goes along with seeking help from a mental health professional.
Suicide need not be a taboo topic. Such an approach to the topic only compounds the dangers of it, as many who battle suicidal ideation also battle feelings of loneliness and isolation. Normalizing conversations about suicide, thoughts about suicide, depression, and mental health in general can open doors to help and, ultimately, to healing.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, there is help. There is hope at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to civilians and veterans. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line). Those searching for help can also dial 988 to be relayed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.