HABERSHAM COUNTY, Ga. — A medical examiner has ruled that an Athens mother whose body was found miles from home after she sent a cryptic text to her daughter died by suicide.
Debbie Collier was found dead Sept. 11 in a ravine in Habersham County near a burned tarp and a tote bag. She was partially naked and her clothes were burned when the body was found.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that Collier’s cause of death was inhalation of superheated gases, thermal injuries and hydrocodone intoxication.
Deputies said Collier, 59, vanished from her Athens home on Sept. 10. Her husband told police he’d last seen his wife around 9 p.m. the night before when she went to bed. He said her rental van was still in the driveway when he left for work, so he assumed she was at home.
Collier’s daughter, Amanda Bearden, told police that around 3 p.m. on Sept. 10, her mother sent her $2,385 via Venmo and the following message:
“They are not going to let me go love you there is a key in the house in the blue flower pot by the door (SIC).”
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Bearden said she tried calling her mother, but she didn’t answer. Bearden said her mother only took her debit card and driver’s license with her.
On Sept. 11, police tracked Collier’s rental van to Habersham County using her satellite radio service.
Deputies found a Chrysler Pacifica pulled over on the side of a wooded area along State Road15 near Tallulah Falls with no one inside. The van was more than 60 miles from Collier’s home.
Bearden arrived at the scene after her satellite radio service notified her that the car had been found, and told deputies her mother had a bad back and couldn’t walk far.
A K9 unit searched the area and deputies found what looked like the remains of a fire in the woods. Shortly thereafter, they found Collier’s body naked and burned. A partially burned blue tarp and a red tote bag were found nearby.
Days later, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office released surveillance video from a Family Dollar in Rabun County showing Collier buying items similarto those that her body was found with.
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At a news conference in September, deputies said they were investigating Collier’s death as an act that “was deliberate and personal.”
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In the statement issued Friday, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell said investigators have since met with the medical examiner’s office, reviewed the finding of items submitted to the crime lab for analysis, reviewed the reports and records received in response to 26 search warrants and subpoenas issued in relation to ever form of social media, electronic communication, cellular tracking data and banking records.
Dix said investigators also reviewed information from the 20+ interviews with family members and potential witnesses.
“The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office would also like to extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Collier’s family and friends,” Dix wrote. “It is our hope and prayer that the findings of this investigation provide some form of closure and allow for the healing process to begin.
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