Sleeping Under a Bridge


After his dismissal from the Sullivan County Division of Planning, Ryo Kiyan was convinced he would end his days doing just that—sleeping under a bridge. The nation was in a recession and he had been dismissed with the slimiest of charges: sexual harassment. Although his attorney had pretty much proved there was nothing sexual about it, sexual harassment was mentioned at least three times in the final determination from the hearing officer, Lynda Levine, Esq.

With the recession, there were very few jobs available, especially in the field of GIS (Geographical Information Systems), for which he had spent almost ten years preparing himself. He offered his services to the county on a volunteer basis. He also tried to volunteer for other causes, such as Sullivan County’s Bicentennial, and Habitat for Humanity. No one returned his phone calls. It made him think he’d been blacklisted. Who would want to hire a sexual harasser, even free of charge?

He wrote to the various county commissioners and approached other lawyers. Maybe something could be done on the basis of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Asperger’s syndrome, which is what got him into trouble, is regarded as a disability—so much so that cases more severe than his are eligible for Social Security.

None of the attorneys was much help. Their general attitude, Ryo felt, was “You screwed up, buddy, this is your problem.” Perhaps there wasn’t enough money in it to catch their interest. Ryo became embittered. He had already given them all his money, and borrowed some from his mother.

In spite of his prolonged efforts to appeal, he never stopped looking for work. Any work. Month after month of 2010 went by. He was aware of a well-known truism, that the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it becomes to find employment. He spent hours online applying for jobs, all to no avail.

At the end of September he decided to try Washington, DC. He had lived and worked there at one time, and he liked it. The day before he left, he attended a cookout for members of a support group whose meetings he had occasionally attended. It was held in the village of Palenville, where his sister lived. For sociability, he left his mother and their two dogs at his sister’s house and picked them up when the party was over.

Palenville cookout

Jesse Saperstein, Brian Liston, Jason Cohen, James Ryo Kiyan, Jonas ?, Kate Palmer, Curt Emond

His mother remembers that drive home along Route 209—the streaks of sunset, the dark trees on the mountainside. The Summitville firehouse. Almost home. It would be the last time.

The next day he finished packing, embraced his mother goodbye, petted each dog on the head, and drove off. It was early afternoon. Several hours later he sent an e-mail:

Here I am at the Days Inn in Laurel, Md., using the hotel’s Wi-Fi. . . . I drove straight through to Alan’s [his uncle], 5.5 hr. Dined with them. Am meeting Alan at 8 a.m. tomorrow at his house & we’re taking the Metro to the city.

Just before leaving for DC, Ryo had ordered a laptop to help in his job search. Shipment was delayed and he didn’t want to wait, so he borrowed his mother’s laptop and also her cell phone. Both were kept busy as he engaged her help in renewing his health insurance. He seemed to have it all under control except for a job itself.

A few days later came another e-mail, dated Friday, October 01, 2010:

Dear Mom and Alan,

I’ve signed up for another 7 nights at the hotel. Mom, if I don’t find a job by Friday October 8, I guess I’ll be back between 6 p.m. & midnight that day (I’ll give you a better idea hopefully by then). Alan, I’ll see you at 7 p.m. tonight. Love, Ryo

He never showed up at Alan’s that night. Nor did he arrive at home on the 8th. There were no more phone calls, no messages, no e-mails. His mother tried to keep in touch, letting him know the new laptop had arrived. Asking if she should take care of his car insurance.

After a while her messages grew more frantic. “Where are you? You’re scaring me.”

More days passed. His family received a phone call that his car had been abandoned at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. With the car identified, a search of the park began. He was on record as having hiked there several years before. By following that information, they found him on October 14, on Pignut Mountain.

That evening, two state troopers arrived at his mother’s door. They waited while she got the dogs shut up, and made sure she was sitting down. Then they told her bluntly “Your son is deceased.”

The park did a thorough investigation and when it was finished, released the two notes he had left. One of them said,

Dear Family,

Don’t feel sorry for me. I was just a perpetually dissatisfied old man who was going nowhere fast. I’ve had a long life, many good times, and I love everybody. Love, Ryo

The other, dated 10-2-10, was more specific:

You hear a lot of talk about “community” these days but it’s just an empty buzzword. People who are having a tough time expressing themselves to the people whom they admire and count on shouldn’t be denigrated and trashed and expected to fend for themselves.

That was all it said. And that said it all.

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