When Raleigh, North Carolina, police officer Dan Hicks got home from work the evening of September 9, he acted as if it had been just another day.
No mention to his wife, Erin, of the drama that had taken place. No mention of stopping a young man from perhaps committing suicide, with a hug that would make Hicks, a 2005 George Mason University graduate, famous worldwide.
“I don’t know that I had any particular reason for not mentioning it to her,” Hicks says. “It wasn’t like a hero complex or anything. I don’t know. I just went home.”
Hicks, 32, a senior officer and father of two, would have plenty to talk about in the following days as local television reporters asked for interviews and media outlets around the world played the North Carolina Department of Transportation video that caught the entire encounter.
Hicks says friends told him they saw it in the Netherlands, and he heard secondhand the video played in Guam, the Philippines, and Okinawa.
“He just took it in stride,” says Raleigh police captain Andy Murr, who calls Hicks “an even-keeled professional. He does his job the right way every time.”
Hicks, whose Mason degree is in health, fitness, and recreation resources, was done with his 12-hour shift and driving back to the station at 7:09 p.m. when an off-duty officer reported a man sitting on a 30-foot high bridge overlooking another street.
According to the News & Observer newspaper, Hicks, the first officer on the scene, parked his car about 30 yards away from the man sitting outside the guardrail. Hicks approached, introduced himself by his first name, and asked if they could talk. After a few words, the man stepped back over the guardrail.
“This was a young individual who was clearly distraught,” Hicks recalls. “I think he had it in his mind he wanted to do something because of the place he was in. But I also got the impression he was grateful for the out. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing for him to come over.”
That’s when Hicks did what made him a viral superstar. He gave the man a hug.
“He looked like he needed it,” Hicks says.
Beyond that, “I’m by myself,” Hicks says, “and if he’s going to go back over the bridge he’s going to take me with him. So the fight would have been on the ground just to keep him from going over the side.”
Hicks calls his years at Mason formative. He says he was part of the first pledge class for the Chi Psi fraternity and stays in touch with some college friends.
His perspective, though, has remained constant.
“I have it within me to be compassionate to people,” Hicks says. “Being courteous and understanding tends to get you a lot further.”
A good hug doesn’t hurt, either.