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

Tavaughn (left) and Tavaris Bulgincourtesy of Rev. Rhoan Perkins

The two friends got out safely, but the brothers did not. The body of Tavaris Bulgin was found around 6:30 Monday morning, and his brother is presumed dead.

State Police divers returned Tuesday morning and searched the inlet and pond side of the bridge for Tavaughn Bulgin, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman. Crews moved to the seaward side of the bridge to continue the search but were met with poor weather that “caused dangerous conditions,” he said. The search was suspended at 1 p.m.

A vigil was held Monday night in Palmers Cross in the parish of Clarendon in south-central Jamaica, said Reverend Rhoan Parkins, a spokesperson for the Bulgin family.

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

“While the family is at the heart of this, there are ripple effects right around them,” Parkins said Tuesday. “We hope people will say a prayer for the congregation and the community as they pray for the family.”

Hundreds of people gathered outside the family’s home in Clarendon throughout the day Monday to mourn as news of the tragedy spread. Parkins said the community is in “total shock” over the loss.

“There was silence, there was hollering, there was wailing, people were holding their heads, people crumbling to their feet — all arrays of emotional distress were on display,” he said. “These young men were promising and they interacted extremely well with the community.”

Parkins said Tavaughn played keyboard for the church and helped set up the technology to stream services online, while Tavaris served as superintendent of the Sunday school. The brothers attended university in Jamaica and studied business, he said.

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

On Martha’s Vineyard, the bridge was quiet during a gusty and cloudy afternoon. Flowers and a framed photo of the brothers were placed on the bridge in an area where people often jump. The brothers were seasonal workers at Nomans restaurant in Oak Bluffs. The restaurant remained closed Tuesday and the parking lot was empty.

Stacy Thomas, who co-owns Vineyard Caribbean Cuisine with her husband, Newton Waite, said the Bulgin brothers ate lunch at the Jamaican restaurant almost every day. She was devastated when she heard what had happened.

“They came here as customers and we bonded,” Thomas said. The brothers were quiet, she said, but would always tell her what they liked on the menu.

Thomas, who is a minister, plans to hold a vigil and prayer service on Sunday at the bridge. Tavaris had been a seasonal worker on the island since 2017, and Tavaughn was spending his first summer here, she said.

On a typical summer day, dozens of people line up on the ocean side of the “Jaws” bridge to jump into the water, despite signs reading “no diving or jumping” placed prominently at both ends. The bridge is about 12 to 15 feet above the water, depending on the tides, but Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz said the water can be dangerous, especially for inexperienced swimmers. He urged anyone who chooses not to heed the warnings to wear a life jacket.

It wasn’t long after authorities left the area on Monday that people returned to the bridge and began jumping into the fast-moving waters below.

State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, said that while the incident is tragic, cracking down on the tradition would be a poor use of limited police resource. Instead, the emphasis should be on educating the Cape and Islands’ increasingly international seasonal workforce about the dangers of the waters below, he said.

“This should be a reminder to our communities that everyone who is living and visiting our communities, but especially our seasonal workforce, [must have] some level of education or information around risks particularly of the marine environment,” Cyr said. “These waters are beautiful and hopefully pristine but are not to be taken lightly.”

A leap from the bridge is a summer pastime for locals and visitors, said Todd Rebello, who owns four souvenir shops in Oak Bluffs. Among his inventory are T-shirts that show people jumping from the bridge as a great white shark emerges from the water and the message “I jumped off the Jaws Bridge … and lived to tell about it.”

“It’s been an 80-year tradition,” Rebello said of people jumping from the bridge. Still, “everyone on the island is shaken,” he said.

At around 5 p.m., about 10 employees from Nomans gathered at the bridge. They placed bouquets of flowers next to the picture of the brothers and threw flowers into the water.

“They were the best,” said Abby Marchand. Tavaris was a teacher in Jamaica, she said, and Tavaughn was taking accounting classes.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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. Alexander Thompson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @AlMThompson

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