Authorities suspend search for missing man who jumped off ‘Jaws’ bridge on Martha’s Vineyard

Tavaughn and his older brother, 26-year-old Tavaris Bulgin, were with two friends when they jumped off the bridge made famous in the movie “Jaws” around 11pm on Sunday. The spot is a popular spot for swimmers.

Two members of the group got out of the water safely, but the brothers did not. Tavaris Bulgin’s body was recovered around 6:30 a.m. Monday.

State police divers returned Tuesday morning and searched the inlet and pond side of the bridge, but did not find Tavaughn Bulgin, said David Procopio, a spokesman for the state police, in an email.

Crews then moved to the seaward side of the bridge to continue the search, but “were hampered by inclement weather causing dangerous conditions” and ceased the day’s search at 1 p.m., Procopio said.

A vigil was held Monday night at the Palmers Cross home community in Clarendon parish in southern Jamaica, Rev. Rhoan Parkins, a spokesman for the Bulgin family.

Parkins said Tavaughn and Tavaris Bulgin were “community followers” and active in the Palmers Cross New Testament Church of God, where their father, Reverend Keith Bulgin, serves as a pastor.

When the search resumed Tuesday morning, Parkins asked for prayers for the Bulgin family and the wider community as they recover from the tragedy.

“While the family is central here, there are ripples around them,” he said in an interview Tuesday morning. “We hope that people will pray for the church and the community as they pray for the family.”

The bridge was quiet on Tuesday during a windy and cloudy afternoon. Flowers and a framed photo of the brothers were placed on the bridge in an area where people often jump.

on Tuesday morning, officials said the environmental police using side-scanning sonar and state police divers returned to the area hoping to find the missing man.

The brothers were seasonal workers at the Nomans restaurant in Oak Bluffs, according to a family spokesperson and officials.

The restaurant remained closed on Tuesday and the parking lot was empty. An Instagram post said it will likely reopen on Wednesday. Nomans has the same owners as the popular harborside restaurant Nancy’s in Oak Bluffs. Nancy’s employees said they did not want to talk about the tragedy on Tuesday morning.

The brothers, the second and third children of the Bulgin family, also had two sisters, a family spokesperson said.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the family’s home in Clarendon all day Monday to mourn as news of the incident began to spread in the community. Parkins described an emotional scene outside the home and said the community feels “total shock” over the loss.

“There was silence, there was screaming, there was whining, people were holding their heads, people were crumbling — all forms of emotional distress were on display,” he said. “These young men showed great promise and they had an extremely good interaction with the community.”

Parkins said Tavaughn Bulgin played keyboards for the church and helped set up the technology to stream online services, while Tavaris Bulgin was the Sunday School superintendent. Both brothers attended college in Jamaica and majored in business administration, he said.

“They made themselves and their parents proud,” he said.

On a typical summer day, dozens of people line up on the ocean side of the “Jaws” bridge, waiting to jump into the water, despite signs saying “don’t dive or jump” prominently posted at either end. But Oak Bluffs fire chief Nelson Wirtz said the waters can be dangerous, especially for novice swimmers. He urged anyone who chooses to ignore the safety warnings to wear a life jacket.

It wasn’t long after authorities left the area after their search on Monday that people returned to the bridge and started jumping into the fast-flowing water below.

Senator Julian Cyr, representing Martha’s Vineyard, called the incident “truly tragic” for the communities in Massachusetts and Jamaica during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, but said he doesn’t know how to make the area safer.

Placing state or local law enforcement on the bridge to deter the jumping would be a misuse of limited police resources, he said. Instead, he said the focus should be on training the Cape and Islands’ increasingly international seasonal workers.

“This should remind our communities that everyone who lives in our communities and visits our communities, but especially our seasonal workers, [must have] some level of education or information about risks, especially from the marine environment,” Cyr said. “These waters are beautiful and hopefully pristine, but should not be taken lightly.”

A jump from the Jaws Bridge is a summertime tradition for many who visit the island, said Todd Rebello, who owns four T-shirt stores in Oak Bluffs. Among his inventory are shirts showing an illustration of people jumping off the bridge as a great white shark emerges from the water with its mouth wide open, along with a message that reads, “I jumped off the Jaws Bridge…and lived to tell about it.”

The shirt was on display in a shop window on the corner of Circuit Avenue on Tuesday. Rebello said he has no intention of removing the shirts from his shelves.

“It’s an 80-year tradition,” Rebello said of people jumping off the bridge. Nevertheless, he noted, people on the Vineyard are reeling from the tragedy.

“Everyone on the island is shocked,” he said.

This is a story in development and will be updated.


John R. Ellement can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Brittany Bowker can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker. Nick Stoico can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.

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