by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
The night of Monday, April 3, began like any other. Eli Cuadro, a corporal in Dickinson’s Department of Public Safety, was working the overnight shift in Kaufman Hall. It was quiet, but for the familiar crackle of the police scanner, tuning him in to the goings-on in town.
Then a police call came in. Off-campus, a girl barely in her teens was threatening suicide. Her family called 911 for emergency assistance, and Carlisle Police Department officers were dispatched. But the girl and her mother spoke only Spanish, and there were no Spanish-speaking officers or hostage negotiators on the local force.
The police department contacted Cuadro, who is bilingual. He rushed to the scene and discovered the young girl in the kitchen, holding a butcher knife at her neck.
Dickinson safety officers routinely aid the local police when asked, says Dee Danser, assistant vice president of compliance and chief of public safety. But this night was far from routine. “It was a complex, high-stress situation,” Danser says. “It could have gone any number of different ways.”
But if anyone could steer this tenuous situation to safety, it was Cuadro. The sociable son of immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuadro spoke Spanish and English at home and grew up in a multicultural neighborhood in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he became fluent in several Spanish dialects. That came in handy during his 25 years on the Baltimore police force, where he quickly honed a talent for public communication—and for diffusing charged and delicate challenges.
“You go in there with the mindset of, ‘I want to save this person.’ It’s about having compassion and understanding and making the person feel comfortable,” says Cuadro, who joined Dickinson’s public safety team in 2018 and was promoted to corporal last year. “You have such an adrenaline high, but you have to control it. You’ve gotta maintain positive body language and keep your tone relaxed.”
After speaking briefly with her mother, Cuadro introduced himself to the teen, explained that he was there to help her and asked her what was happening. Tensions remained high: The girl didn’t want to talk.
“When someone is in that state of mind, it’s very difficult for them to open up at first, but I think they do want to talk—they want to be heard,” says Cuadro. “It’s very important to be a good listener and not rush things. I offered to stay there as long as she needed to talk.”
Cuadro let her know he was a dad to four daughters, and he asked the girl about her family, friends and school—taking care to tread lightly over potentially sensitive topics. He listened carefully, checking her body language for cues of sudden action, and he assured her that they’d get through this experience together.
“After about 45 minutes of talking, she started to cry, and she lowered the knife from her throat to her chest,” Cuadro remembers. “I asked her to put the knife in the sink and she did, as she cried.”
The girl agreed to accept help, and as they waited for the ambulance, Cuadro gave her a jacket. They rode together to the hospital, where he provided translation services for the medical staff, remaining with the girl and her family until a plan was in place. The girl was chatting and smiling when he left.
“The best part?” he asks. “As I was leaving, her mother told me, ‘You just saved my daughter’s life.’”
Two days later, the Department of Public Safety hosted an on-campus ceremony in Cuadro’s honor. The department, in concert with Dickinson’s student life office, bestowed a meritorious conduct award “for exemplary performance and actions above and beyond, through saving a young woman.” Chief Taro Landis of the Carlisle Police Department presented Cuadro with a commendation and publicly thanked the Dickinson corporal for his professionalism and empathy. Cuadro, for his part, expressed gratitude to the fellow officers and medical staff who worked together to reach a safe resolution that night.
“In my 25 years of law enforcement, I’ve come across many different scenarios. You want them all to end up well,” he says. “To me, it’s just about good communication. It’s not about giving commands.”
In many ways, Cuadro’s life at Dickinson is worlds away from his time with the Baltimore PD, where events such as this are much more common. But the motivations that draw him to work every day are unchanged.
“It’s important for me to pass the torch to young officers here at Dickinson,” says Cuadro, who trains new officers in his role as corporal, “not so much as in a law-enforcement capacity, but in establishing rapport with students, so they can guide and mentor the students effectively and keep them safe. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help.
“It’s why I love my work,” he adds. “If I can make a positive difference in one student’s life, I’ve done my job.”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or visit the Lifeline website (on campus, please call DPS Emergency at 717-245-1111). Dickinson students seeking non-emergency counseling may make an appointment with a Wellness Center counselor, visit Crisis Walk-In Hours (M-F 11-12 or 2-3 ) or access 24/7 mental health support via the My Student Support Program app.
Published April 19, 2023