The famous diamond-shaped "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign — a site usually teeming with celebratory visitors — was somber for a few hours early today when a man was found dead there of an apparent suicide.
An off-duty Las Vegas police officer noticed the man slumped over the steering wheel of a brown pickup at the parking lot’s south edge near Russell Road about 5:30 a.m.
Upon further investigation, the officer found him dead from an apparent gunshot wound. His death was later ruled a suicide.
The Review-Journal has no record of other suicides at the sign, which has greeted visitors arriving at the nation’s gambling mecca for 50 years.
And a longtime public official said he couldn’t recall anyone committing suicide near the iconic sign at the south end of the Strip.
“No, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Bruce Woodbury, 64, who served as Clark County commissioner for 28 years and grew up in Las Vegas.
He wondered whether the person used the sign to make a macabre “welcome” statement.
The parking lot and walkway added to the traffic median last year have made the sign safer for visitors who want to take pictures, he said. But the sign is also more accessible to others with darker motives.
“There’s always a downside to anything you want to do,” Woodbury said.
Metropolitan Police Department officials would not identify the man, provide details about his death, or speak to possible motives that could have led to his death. The man was found in a Toyota pickup with Nevada license plates that include a picture of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
The sign was designed by Betty Willis in 1959 and is included in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Wednesday’s death was the second time in a month the sign was the site of bad news. In mid-July, vandals with a red marker scribbled initials on the bottom corner of the sign.
Police Sgt. John Loretto couldn’t recall any other suicides near the sign, but said the location isn’t an integral detail to the man’s death.
“To me, the fact that it’s at the sign is not unusual,” he said. “(No matter) the location, the method, it’s still a suicide.”
As of 2006, Nevada had the fourth highest suicide rate in the country, according to Linda Flatt, a spokeswoman for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Las Vegas.
“There is a misconception that people come here with the intent to end their lives,” Flatt said. “There are public places across the U.S. that are so-called 'suicide destinations.’
“The motivation is probably as different as each individual that chooses that destination to die.” Flatt wouldn’t speculate whether Wednesday’s suicide was related to attention seeking.
“That answer obviously went to the grave with the person who died,” she said. Flatt encouraged anyone with suicidal thoughts to seek help by contacting 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Review-Journal reporter Scott Wyland contributed to this report. Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.