HABERSHAM COUNTY, Ga. - Debbie Collier’s death has been ruled a suicide by the G.B.I. Medical Examiner’s Office, according the the Habersham County Sheriff's Office.
The Habersham County Sheriff's Office said Friday autopsy results show Collier died from "inhalation of superheated gases, thermal injuries, and hydrocodone intoxication."
Investigators met with the family before sharing the autopsy findings. The sheriff's office offered condolences to Collier's loved ones in a statement:
"The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office would like to commend Investigator George Cason and Investigator Cale Garrison for their dedication and persistence in conducting a thorough investigation. Additionally, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, The Tallulah Falls Police Department, the Banks County Sheriff’s Office, the Habersham County Coroner’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their assistance in various aspects of this complex investigation.
"The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office would also like to extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Collier’s family and friends. 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."
Collier was found dead and naked on Sept. 11 in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest south of Clayton, a 90-minute drive from her home in Athens. Her husband, Steven Collier, reported her missing around 6 p.m. the day earlier. She was a discovered few feet downhill from the site of a small fire, with burns on her stomach, soot in her nostrils and clutching at a small tree.
Investigators initially said they did not see have any evidence suggesting the incident was related to a kidnapping or suicide and are still considering the case a murder investigation. Investigator George Cason said they were investigating Collier's death as if it was a murder investigation, but investigators were still waiting for autopsy results.
Collier was last seen alive at a Family Dollar store on Sept. 10, purchasing several items that were found burned near her remains. She also stopped by a Chick-fil-A restaurant beforehand, the sources noted.
The missing person report came after she sent a bizarre Venmo payment to her daughter, Amanda Bearden, of almost $2,400 along with the cryptic message: "They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flowerpot by the door."
Investigators have not clarified what the message meant or confirmed Collier sent it.
Bearden and her boyfriend had moved back to Athens from Maryland just a few days before her disappearance.
Bearden says law enforcement seized money from a Venmo payment her mother sent to her the day of her death. They've since released it back to her.
At first, authorities said they were investigating her death as a homicide, but have since backtracked.
Bearden appeared on the "Crime on the Record Podcast" during a special live-stream last week. She revealed for the first time that she thinks her mother took her own life.
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