Man who plunged to his death at Disneyland identified as Huntington Beach principal
A man who was found dead after reportedly jumping from a parking garage at Disneyland on Saturday has been identified as the principal at a Huntington Beach elementary school.
The man, Christopher Christensen, 51, of Westminster, was the principal at Newland Elementary School and a musician who performed across Southern California. Christensen was facing misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and battery at the time of his death, Orange County Superior Court records show.
A man identified as Chris Christensen of Westminster published a long post on Facebook on Saturday evening telling readers about a recent domestic dispute and how a “flawed” legal system had upended his life. Edmund Velasco, president of the Orange County Musicians Union who knew Christensen through Christensen’s father, confirmed in a text message to The Times that the Facebook account belonged to Christensen.
Attempts to reach the Christensen family were unsuccessful.
Christensen was due to appear in court Monday.
Police believe the death is a suicide, said Sgt. Shane Carringer of the Anaheim Police Department, adding the coroner’s office will determine the cause of death.
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If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help from a professional and call 9-8-8. The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. Text “HOME” to 741741 in the U.S. and Canada to reach the Crisis Text Line.
An autopsy report is expected this week.
On the evening of his death, Christensen published a Facebook post at 8:38 p.m. that he said he hoped would provide “some insight and perspective.” In the post, he described an “amazing” marriage to his wife of 3½ years, whom he identified as Marlena, that took a turn one recent evening during a “heated argument” at their home in which “tempers were flared and strong words were exchanged between us.” The argument happened in front of their daughters, he said.
“Unfortunately, Marlena’s anger got the best of her that night and she called the police, which landed me in jail that night,” Christensen said. “Yes, me! A man who has never hit or harmed ANYONE in his life!”
There’s a new three-digit phone number for you to remember: 988. It’s a free suicide prevention hotline for anyone to use, and it couldn’t come soon enough.
Orange County Superior Court records confirmed Christensen was arrested on Nov. 15 and released from jail on $10,000 bail two days later. He was charged with child abuse and endangerment and battery. He pleaded not guilty.
Ruben Frias, identified in court documents as Christensen’s lawyer, declined to comment Monday.
In the Facebook post, Christensen wrote that “never in this exchange did I hit, slap, or hurt Marlena in any manner. Nor did I ever touch the girls.”
He wrote that the recent November evening “completely unraveled” his and his wife’s lives. He said he had been placed on administrative leave and was on the brink of losing his job at Newland Elementary as his case made its way through the legal system, which he described as “extremely flawed (especially against men/fathers).” He said his wife had “no intention” of the night escalating the way it did, and “regrets making that call” to the police. She was also “trying to clear my name with little success,” Christensen wrote.
“So, here I am…writing my final FB post to all of you,” Christensen wrote. “I need you all to know that a gentle, kind, loving and sincerely good man has been destroyed by one unfortunate night. It really is unfortunate! This is NOT me! This is NOT something that I ever thought would happen to me.”
Christensen wrote about his love of working in education and of playing music, which he described as a creative outlet. He said he performed in his last show Friday night, and he spent the final day of his life reaching out to loved ones. “This is not an ideal way to go out, but at least I get a chance to say some final words to those who I love and adore,” Christensen wrote.
One man’s death may not have been preventable, but understanding what led to it offers hope for others.
Christensen ended his post by asking that everyone treat one another with “kindness and grace.”
“There is too much anger in the world and people need to start treating each other better,” he wrote. “What I’ve shared with you above is a prime example of how ‘anger’ can really have long-lasting and extremely damaging effects on a person’s life.”
Dispatchers received a call just before 9 p.m. Saturday of a man who jumped from Disneyland’s Mickey & Friends parking garage, Carringer said. Anaheim Fire and Rescue found Christensen dead, Carringer said. It was unclear which level of the garage Christensen jumped from, Carringer said.
At least three others have taken their lives by leaping from the seven-story structure: a 61-year-old man in 2010, a 23-year-old man in 2012 and a 40-year-old man in 2016.
Christensen had been an administrator with the Fountain Valley School District for more than 20 years, he said in a letter published on Newland’s website before the current school year. Christensen previously worked as a principal at Courreges Elementary School, Fulton Middle School and Moiola Elementary School. He began his career with the FVSD as an assistant principal at Masuda Middle School in 2001. He also worked as a middle school music teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District.
KABC-TV Channel 7 reported that grief counselors were available at all FVSD schools to help students, staff and their families.
“I too am struggling to find adequate words to convey the shock and heartbreak we are all feeling right now,” FVSD Supt. Katherine Stopp said in the district’s statement, according to KABC. “I know that we will find a way to come together as a community and care for one another. Let us all show patience to each other as we work through this time in the next days and weeks.”
Newland Elementary declined to comment Monday. The FVSD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Times staff writer Gabriel San Román contributed to this report.
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