Coroner Reveals How Burned Georgia Mom Debbie Collier Really Died

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You can also text or dial 988.

The murky circumstances surrounding the death of 59-year-old Debbie Collier, who was found Sept. 11 burned and naked in a forest, have divided the town of Athens, Georgia.

Allegations that the boyfriend of her daughter Amanda Bearden, who received a cryptic text and nearly $2,400 before she died, had threatened the family, as well as calls by her son Jeffrey Bearden for the sheriff to resign over his handling of the case, have cast a shadow over the investigation. But autopsy results have finally cleared up what her family thought was evident from the beginning: that she died by suicide.

“It’s pretty evident that she started the fire. From what I saw and what I considered to be the case is that this was a self-inflicted death, but I was relying on the results of the autopsy and the doctor at the lab to make the final call,” Habersham County Deputy Coroner Ken Franklin said this week when announcing that she died from “inhalation of superheated gases, thermal injuries, and hydrocodone intoxication.”

Her daughter, who has been the target of rampant speculation about her involvement, told the podcast Crime on the Record that she should have seen the signs that her mother was suicidal. “Looking back on it, it just almost seemed like she was giving me all of her things,” Bearden said.

Bearden received a Venmo payment for nearly $2,385 on the day her mother disappeared along with a message, “They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flower pot by the door.”

That message led authorities to initially launch a homicide investigation, focusing on whether the Georgia woman was the victim of a kidnapping. But since then, now more than two months since her body was found in a ravine near Athens, Georgia, the tight-lipped investigators have drawn scorn from her son, who called on the sheriff to resign, telling The Daily Beast in late October that he was disgusted with the way Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell handled the affair.

“I want him to resign, absolutely,” Bearden said. “He just dismissed my concerns and laughed at me. I would not be the man I am today without my mother, and I can’t let another victim’s family go through what I went through on the phone with him.”

Collier’s son had pleaded with the public to stop speculating on the family. “Please, again, put down your bows and arrows and stop hunting my family. Please respect my mother,” Jeffrey Bearden told The Daily Beast on Oct. 26. “Would you want you and your family’s worst day to be exploited in this manner? I truly hope no one ever has to go through this experience and be left as haunted as I am.”

The coroner said he spoke with all family members before releasing the autopsy publicly.

“I’m glad it’s over, but I’m sorry for the family and all that they have had to go through,” Franklin said. “All of the questioning and suspicion and things they’ve had to go through made it difficult for them to live a normal life. I feel sorry for them and my prayers go with them.”

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