Mitchell Stern, the police chief of the Verona police department in New Jersey, told BuzzFeed News that on Thursday, he received an email from a Chinese student in the U.K. that said another Chinese student in Verona, Italy, had threatened to kill herself on a group chat.
The email said that the girl had "serious depression" and was going to harm herself, according to Stern, who refused to reveal the identities of both students.
The student in the U.K. mistakenly sent the email on Thursday at 4:40 p.m. ET to Stern's department in New Jersey instead of the Italian police in Verona. The email address is not monitored 24/7, Stern said.
When he saw the email at 5:20 p.m. ET, Stern immediately googled the Verona Police in Italy, but was unable to find their website. He then called the Italian embassy, but it was closed. Stern finally contacted Interpol in Washington, D.C., and forwarded the email to them, who, in turn, alerted the state police in Rome.
At 7:10 p.m. ET, the student in the U.K. emailed Stern informing him that police were in the girl's apartment in Verona.
In a Facebook post, the Italian state police, who identified the girl as a student of the Academy of Fine Arts of Verona, said she was found alive with her wrists partially severed and a half-empty bottle of antidepressants beside her.
She was transported to the hospital and was stable, Stern said.
"We saved a life literally half a world away," Stern told BuzzFeed News.
Stern said that when he first received the email, he told the student in the U.K. that he had emailed the wrong police department. "But I was not going to let someone who is sick or ill just go to the wayside," Stern said. "I felt it was my responsibility."
The police chief said that the student was unable to get in touch with anyone in Italy and was only in touch with him.
This wasn't the first time the New Jersey police department has been mistaken for the Italian one, as theirs is the first email address to show up in a Google search, Stern said.
But the other emails have been of a "non-emergent nature," and Stern usually told the senders they had the wrong police department. But this time he had to take action because it was a "life-threatening problem," he said.
The Chinese student in the U.K. thanked Stern in his final email to him, but no one else has contacted him since, he said.
The Italian police said that the cooperation between international authorities helped save the girl's life.
"We had an impact on somebody's life literally half a world away," Stern said. "We saved a life half a world away."