Take a good look at this picture.
Does this look like a girl about to commit suicide?
Meet Allison Bayliss, a fifteen-year-old from a small upscale town in Northern California called Danville. I'm quite familiar with the town, for that's where I've lived for 25 years having raised two spectacular kids there.
Fortunately for my wife and me, neither of them did what Allison is alleged to have done Monday.
According to police, at approximately 8 AM, rather than going to school, Allison drove her bicycle to the local BART station - the train system throughout the Bay Area - and headed towards San Francisco.
She got off at the first San Francisco stop, Embarcadero, where she was caught by a security camera coming up the escalator to the street (pictured above). From there, she biked across the city in rather busy traffic making her way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
That's about a 9 mile bike ride on city streets with cars, buses, trolleys, pedestrians, and traffic lights - not an easy feat for a seasoned cyclist let alone a fifteen-year-old girl.
What must have been going through this youngster's mind during this ride? Was she crying the whole time thinking about what she was allegedly about to do? What could possibly have brought her to this moment?
At 4:45 AM Tuesday, Allison's father, responding to information he found on her computer, discovered her bike at the Battery East parking lot on the south side of the bridge. It was locked to a bike rack, her helmet attached.
From there, it is believed Allison walked the rest of the way. Although the pictures have not been released, security cameras caught Allison on the pedestrian part of the bridge.
She hasn't been seen or heard from since, and authorities believe she jumped.
Having learned of the sad news, over 1,000 Danville residents gathered at the Congregational Church Wednesday evening to say prayers for Allison. My little town has been rocked by this event as she was apparently well-liked, a fabulous athlete, artist, musician, and straight-A student.
Yet, she was apparently quite troubled as she left a suicide note in her computer where police also discovered inquiries about BART schedules as well as plane flights.
Although these tragic incidents happen across America on a regular basis, Allison strangely was a girl on a mission Monday. That's a long journey for a 15-year-old to take on her own. She thought this through well ahead of time, and went to great lengths to get to that bridge.
Also curious, since bikes are allowed on the pedestrian part of the span, why would she chain hers to a rack well away from it and walk there rather than just biking the whole way? And why bother chaining the bike at all if she wasn't going to need it for a return trip home?
Was she not sure she was going to be able to go through with it, and needed the security of the bike being there in case she didn't? Did she want additional time to contemplate what she was about to do and walking seemed more conducive to such a thing?
So many questions remain as her body has yet to be found. At this point it's mere speculation she jumped for there aren't any other answers.
What we do know is she was in San Francisco many miles from home Monday, and was walking on one of the most famous bridges in the world all by herself. What we don't know is why she was there or what happened after a security camera snapped a photo of her on the span.
It goes without saying my heart reaches out to her parents and her siblings, and to all those in my town who knew and loved this girl. I didn't know her, and neither did my daughter who's two years older. But when a tragedy like this hits a small town like ours, everybody suddenly knows everybody, and this is all anyone can talk about.
For myself, I am obsessed with the picture of Allison coming out of BART holding onto her bicycle, earbuds attached to a hidden iPod, looking like any normal 15-year-old on her way to the big city. Like most Danville parents, I've cried a lot in the past couple of days, for this could have been my little girl or someone close to my family.
That she's not doesn't make me any less curious about what drove her to this moment and what that nine mile bike ride through San Francisco was like as she headed toward what appears to be her final destiny.
I also wonder what her parents must be thinking and whether such a loss is something you can ever possibly get over especially given all the questions about the circumstances surrounding the incident. In particular, no one has come forward saying they saw her jump.
This likely happened around 10 AM when the bridge would have been filled with traffic in both directions. How could no one have seen her? This incongruity has led some to wonder if Allison was going to the city to meet someone, maybe even to run away.
I sincerely hope there's another less nefarious answer to this mystery, and that Allison is going to show up in the coming days or months maybe having fled with a stranger she met in the city Monday and having thought better of it. At the very least, if she really did jump, I hope her body will be found so that her family can have some closure and not spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened while they all thought she was safe at school.
The not knowing would be far worse than the pain of a funeral at this point.
As for the rest of the fifteen-year-olds in America, and my kids that are older than this, I hope they all have somebody in their lives to talk to so that this doesn't happen to them.
A bike ride to one of the most beautiful spots on the planet shouldn't cause such misery or be so tragic.
And to the parents out there: don't forget to tell you kids you love them each and every day. It surely seems certain Allison was missing the emotional support she needed to face another day on the planet regardless of all she was apparently blessed with.
When you consider everything else we do for our children, why do so many fail at what should be the easiest thing to give to those we love the most?
I'm sure if she does return, Allison is going to be showered with affection by all of her family members.
Let's hope it's not too late.
*****Update: I received the following email message from a reader on Friday. She has given me permission to publish but without her name:
I read your article on Allison Bayliss. As you know, this story has affected so many people throughout the bay area, including myself. I live in the marina in SF, and ran down to Fort Point at 10am that same Monday morning Allison allegedly was spotted on the bridge. It was a clear, sunny day. Not to mention, there were a significant amount of surfers in the water at Fort Point (15/20+ folks) as well as tourists taking pictures of the bridge. I even stopped at Hoppers Hands for a moment because there was an unusually large crowd for a typical Monday morning.
I realize that it only takes 4-6 seconds to jump off the bridge. However, I find it HIGHLY unlikely that Allison could have jumped without being detected. Especially if she was on the pedestrian side, which is where they claim she was. In addition, she was wearing a bright red zip hoody. I just think somebody would have seen her jump and reported it.
I do not know what type of camera devices are on the bridge or how sophisticated they are. It's my understanding, they have security cameras at each lamp post as well as motion detection devices. Given the fact it would be nearly impossible for someone to 'pick her up' via car on the bridge, she was seen walking on the bridge but not leaving, I admit, it does look grim. My hope is that maybe she staged this and tossed her red jacket and walked off the bridge and wasn't detected by cameras because she was wearing different clothing. Given the alleged suicide notes she left friends and family, and the fact that Kevin Hines (I believe that is his name) a former bridge survivor had given a talk at her school just the week prior, I doubt my theory of her changing clothes and walking off the bridge is a correct one, but I remain hopeful.
It appears the authorities are not releasing further information out of respect for the Bayliss family. I read an article where the CHP confirmed she jumped from the bridge, so perhaps that was captured on camera but they are not releasing that info to the public. Either way, it's a very sad story. One I hope other people/families can learn from. I don't typically reach out or get involved in stories like this... However, this case perplexes me. I just cannot imagine with all the surfers right there in the water, tourists snapping pics of the bridge, as well as the people walking on the bridge that morning, she could have jumped without being detected. Does not make sense to me. Please keep us posted on any new developments in this story.