Apparent Suicide on Dorland (Updated)

A memorial sprung up near the site of the incident on Monday.

A memorial sprung up near the site of the incident on Monday.

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A 40-year-old woman who set herself on fire Sunday morning at Dorland and Guerrero streets has died from her injuries, police said.

Dorland Street resident Helene Cartwright heard screams and looked out her window to see two men attempting to put out the flames by patting the woman. One of the men, who had been riding his bike around the area, first thought he was witnessing a stunt, said neighbor Patricia Hansen. That man was taken to the hospital with second-degree burns on his hands, Hansen said.

Once the ambulance arrived, officers blocked off Guerrero between 17th and 18th streets.

The incident occurred at around 9 a.m.

Updated Monday at 2:30 p.m.: The woman, who was at first listed as in life-threatening condition, passed away from her injuries on Monday, according to police.

It is Mission Loc@l’s policy to not report apparent suicide attempts, but an exception was made in this case because it happened in a very public space, where many people could see the incident and its aftermath.

71 Comments

  1. ramona w.

    i dont think it could have been at 18th and dorland since the two streets are parallel. Dorland is between 17th and 18th and Dolores and Guerrero.

  2. Angelb

    Thanks for reporting this. I rode by on my bicycle afterwards and talked to a bystander. Needless to say it shook me to the core. None of the other newspapers or tv newscasts reported this. It felt weird to know this happened and find no notice.
    My thoughts are with this woman. May she find peace.

  3. L.

    Hope she will be okay, this is sad. I know there is a suicide hotline, but is there a local place where people who are suicidal can go for support in person?

  4. Adrian

    Her screams woke me up. I’ve never heard screaming like that. It was very troubling. I hope she finds peace.

  5. slappy

    And why on earth would it be policy not to report news that’s going on in the neighborhood, especially when it involves residents of the neighborhood, and when it affects people in the neighborhood (street being shut down). That’ a strange policy for a news-oriented website.

    • Anonymous

      News agencies generally have a policy of not printing stories of suicide. These types of stories can have negative effects, specifically being a trigger for others to do the same.

      It’s also about a family’s privacy. Unless it affects you directly, there’s really no reason for you to know. And when I say directly affects you I don’t mean you had to park three blocks away. I mean if you can’t get into your apartment or garage. And even then, all you really need to know is that someone died. You don’t need to know how or why if it’s not a serial killer who might come after you next. More than that is just being nosy. Sorry if that offends, but think about it. If you had a friend or relative who died in this manner, would you really want a bunch of strangers knowing your friend’s/relative’s business? Probably not.

      • anon2

        I disagree…I think suicides should be reported…
        You mean I am living in a neighborhood, a town, city, country with people killing themselves and all of it is ignored?

        The suicide rate is higher than murder year after year, isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

        Suicide is in the closet and needs the light of day! There will not be an evolving understanding otherwise.

        • anon2

          I am SO sorry for the woman and her family, such a tragedy..

        • Torn tin

          Anon2, I know you mean well, but her life was her own, she did not live it to be used as a statistic. Also, the general topic of suicide is frequentlly discussed in the media, it is not the big secret of 50 years ago. However, just as every death by car accident is not reported, neither is every suicide. Moreover, as others have noted specific cases of suicide are generally not reported because such reports often encourage other troubled individuals to make a copycat attempt.

          She was loved and she was a loving person who accomplished many good things during her life. She was not clinically depressed. She struggled for several years with a different sort of severe mental illness, and despite treatment efforts and tremendous support from her family and friends, eventually she died from her illness. It was not a situation where she would have benefited from being referred to a telephone hotline.

          She was a beautiful person, and I believe she is now a beautiful spirit living in a better place.

  6. Scott

    I just talked to the shop keeper that witnessed the incident across the street from where it happened. He said he was informed that she died from her injuries. RIP.

    • Dorland neighbor

      I fail to understand your point after several re-reads. I can only hope you are not making light of a tragic and horribly traumatic occurrence.

      • Scott

        I fail to understand your rationale for making your comment. If you look at the time of my post (1:20p), and the update above (2:30p), I was simply posting what I had heard before they reported it on here.

        I was not making light of anything. I walked by the scene shortly after the ambulance had left on Sunday and was shaken by the scene. When I went back to the corner shop today I asked the shop keeper if he knew any more details and he informed me this poor lady had died from her injuries. I saw that it was not reported on here and put in my comment.

        I’d suggest actually reading everything before making accusatory statements.

        • Dorland neighbor

          Eric – my apologies, this comment was intended to be posted on the person who commented about undaunted patrons at Tartine waiting for croissants and coffee. User error.

          • Michael

            The poster you’re responding to is Scott, not Eric. See Scott’s point about reading before posting.

  7. Brian Marr

    The charred woman knelt in the street near Tartine’s Bakery. Black with soot, hands up beside her shoulders, hair burned to a short bob. She stared in perfect surrender. A paramedic in dark blue circled with a small red fire extinguisher that looked like a toy. The cyclist who tried to suppress the flames with his bare hands stood shocked. Blackened palms opened, he offered testament. Undaunted, the early morning patrons waited for coffee and croissants.

    • Lisa

      I believe this woman was one of my friends sister. This is beyond horrific! This is the only thing I’ve found that even mentions what happened. Thank you to the man who tried to help her. She is at peace now. Her family is left to put the pieces together and I pray for their healing from this tragedy. I know they will never forget the internal and external pain she was in until she passed early this morning.

  8. Suzanne Yada

    One of the biggest reasons that news outlets do not cover suicides, even sometimes very public ones, is because it is a public health risk. Suicide clusters have been directly correlated with media coverage in certain studies. The more public and attention-grabbing the suicide, the more likely it will be in the media, and the more likely someone else already in a suicidal state of mind would consider copying the act.

    I will say that other studies show it’s not so much about *whether* a suicide is covered, it’s about *how* it’s covered, and I think Mission Local did a tactful job here. As tactful as they could with how tragic the details are. Thank you, Mission Local.

    • Cathy

      Her name is Colleen and I am her sister. Thank you deeply for your continued kind thoughts and prayers. She was the victim of a mental illness that she could not accept and she is now free of her angst. She was a local artist,a legal secretary,and experienced many trips around the world. She was a beautiful loving person who passed away at St. Francis Burn Center early this morning,surrounded by her whole family during her transition. The doctors said she did not suffer long since the deep burns killed the nerve endings. The doctors and nurses at St. Francis took such compassionate care-they are living angels at that hospital! She lived in your neighborhood for over twenty years. Thank you for your thoughts, prayers and the beautiful flowers you left in her memory, that is a comfort to us.

      • Juli Carter

        Cathy,
        I worked with your sister and considered her a friend. We were informed of her passing today, but not of the way she passed, which I just learned here. Please know that we are thinking of all your family and friends, and share your loss.

        • Angelina

          Cathy, I too worked with Colleen. She was a wonderful, loving, caring human being. She was there for me recently, when hearing of my own loss. Colleen showed a compassionate loving side, which warmed my heart. She was a wonderful person. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.

        • Tharey Sen

          Cathy & Caren,

          I also worked with Colleen and I will always remember her for she had the kindest heart. My prayers are with you.

          Colleen, may you rest in peace. You left this world loved by many here at work and as well as by your wonderful family. I will miss you.

          “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” — Leo F. Buscaglia

      • V.V.

        Cathy, I too worked with your sister and was just really beginning to know her. She had a twinkle in her eye I would love to see as I turned the corner at her desk. Occasionally we would chuckle about various eccentricities of our field. Her loss is truly felt in my heart. I am thinking of your family and your loss.

      • Caren Clarke

        I am Colleen’s oldest sister, thank you all for your posts as it helps me heal. Colleen was so much more than her disease, Her mental illness won and killed her but my sister was so much more. She was a beautiful kind vibrant soul who loved deeply, a fantastic artist, an educated woman, humanitarian who did advocate work… and so much much more. Thank you all who were there for her and my heart breaks for anyone who was emotionaly marked. Colleen was a resident of San Francisco for 25+ years.

        • Caren Clarke

          I want to acknowledge St. Francis Burn Center in San Francisco for giving my sister and my entire family extremely dedicated top notch care. The staff treated my sister with dignity, giving incredible care from the doctors, nurses, case managers, chaplain and the security guards.

        • cindy fairhurst

          Caren, I don’t know if you remember me or not, I filled in up at Sac clinic every once in awhile…
          I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss…it’s so difficult to lose a family member no matter what the circumstances. I hope you can take comfort in knowing your sister is no longer suffering. Sending you healing thoughts.

      • Steve

        I am so sad. I worked with Colleen some time ago, and I remember her smile and sweetness vividly and with warmth. My deepest condolences to you and your family.

      • Loron and LaVonne Skretteberg

        We are so deply sorry for Colleen’s passing. You know in a few days is the ann of our dear Tuckers death. I wish there would never be another family that would not have to go through this terrible loss. Mental illness needs to be treated and talked about like all the other illnessesand not swept under the rug. It is so important. Love to all.

  9. Janet

    I am one of Colleen’s cousins and just want to say thank you to everyone who helped Colleen and her family at St Francis Burn Center. May she RIP

  10. Caren Clarke

    This article is about my sister Colleen who committed suicide.
    Colleen, you were never about and you are not your mental illness. You are and always will be about pure pure love. You are a vibrant beautiful soul, given talent beyond the heavens, an educated woman, a humanitarian who fought for human rights, a very caring person and so so so much more. I, sister make a pledge and promise as well as Cathy and mom and dad to continue to help other families who may have loved ones with mental illness to direct them to get the right treatment, to give others the love and understanding of this insidious disease that there is hope of receiving the right medication…that one can aspire to live a balanced life. You did nothing wrong my love, my beloved sister, for you lived the best you knew how and still managed to give us your love and taught all of us deep lessons in life. We will love you for eternity. You are not judged.

    • Beth Elliott

      I am so very sorry for your loss. I am a recent co-worker who was just getting to know her. I was still drumming her name into my head because she was a new co-worker I liked from the get-go, and I looked forward to getting to know her better.

      I’m sorry she felt that bad and hopeless, and that she was unable to pick apart the lies your mind tells you when you’re depressed.

      Your post tells me my impressions of her were correct, that she was a good and worthwhile person. Thank you, and please accept my deepest sympathies.

  11. J.M.

    I too worked with Colleen and I offer my condolences to her family and loved ones. We occasionally caught one another on breaks and she always struck me as an engaged and thoughtful person who expressed interest in my life and what I was doing. I now wish I had gotten to know her better and I hope she is finally at peace. Our firm is very shaken by the loss of Colleen and those that knew her will always remember her presence and light. We miss you.

  12. John Dorning

    I only knew Colleen on a professional basis, as the company that I worked for placed her in two of her jobs, including her last. She was always polite, dependable, engaging and and had quiet and dry sense of humor. Coincidently, I lived in her exact apartment over twenty five years ago and we used to joke about “our” place. Whenever I’d drive down Guerrero these last number of years I’d look up at my old place and it felt good to know that someone so nice was enjoying that apartment. Condolences to all her family and friends.

  13. Ron Maue

    I, like many others who have written here, worked with Colleen. We both worked on the same cases, so I saw her and worked with her on a daily basis. I knew her to be a funny, sweet woman who was quick with a smile. The news of her passing has left a hole in my days and I will miss her. I wish to extend my condolances to the family and hope that you are well and that you find peace. I keep you in my prayers.

  14. K. M.

    I too worked with Colleen. She was such a quiet lady. Never had a bad thing to say about anything or anyone. To know she was suffering that badly and no one was aware of it just goes to show you that mental illness has no bounds and I hate it to the core. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and close friends. I hope we can all find the peace she so desperately craved.

  15. Mark

    I am the Pastor of Dolores Park Church on the other end of Dorland St. As your neighbors I just wanted to express our church family’s heartfelt condolences to you all…Colleen’s family, friends and co-workers. Though we did not know who she was on Sunday morning we were all deeply saddened to know what had taken place. We spent time that morning praying for her, for all of you who knew her and for those who came to her aid. Our hearts are with you and we will continue to hold you in prayer. Clearly she was a beloved woman.

  16. Michael J. Bertinetti

    I can’t tell if my earlier post made it here or not, so I am trying again.
    I worked with Colleen and she was a wonderful person.
    I don’t know where people go after they leave here, but it is a better place now, ever since the moment Colleen arrived.
    I will miss her, and remember her.
    Mike Bertinetti

    • Rhonda L. Nelson

      I initially met Colleen when she worked with me as a temp when my secretary was on vacation. We discovered that we have the same birthday and middle name. When my secretary returned, I recommned that we keep Colleen on a fulltime basis because she had done such a great job for me during my secretary’s absence. I continued to enjoy seeing Colleen on the corner as I passed by. I’d say, “Hi, Colleen Louise,” and she would say, “Hi, Rhonda Louise.” We’d both laugh. During our recent birthdays, we exchanged birthday greetings. It’s hard to digest the reality that she won’t be on the corner anymore. I wish her peace now. As others have said, she was a kind and wonderful person. I want to extend my hearflet condolences to her family and want you to know that she was appreciated at our firm and will be truly missed.

  17. Buzz Skretteberg

    pI am Colleen’s uncle, and live in Spearfish, SD. The day before Colleen’s death it was our sad duty to inform her mother, Sonja, who is my sister, that we had within that hour, been informed that the youngest of our three sons, Michael had just been discovered dead in his apartment. The autopsy this morning indicated he had died of a ruptured esophogus, probably induced by alcohol. Less than 24 hours later she called to inform me that she had lost her daughter as well.

    At age 76 I’ve experienced some pretty tough episodes through my life journey, but never anything of this magnitude.

    Reading your many comments regarding my little neice have been heartwarming, uplifting, and of help to me too, in dealing with and getting through this awful, painful episode for the both of us. Thank you all.

    Sonja’s Big (literally and figuratively) Brother “Buzz”

  18. S.H.

    I am yet another co-working friend of Colleen, and know that I will miss her smile and kind heart. Having lost an unwell brother to suicide I can only offer that Suicide Prevention holds grief groups for survivors. I found it to be very helpful: http://www.sfsuicide.org or http://www.sfsuicide.org/our-programs/grief-groups/grief-and-survivors-programs/ My heartfelt condolences to the family and close friends.

  19. L.

    Love and condolences to her family and friends. I am so sorry you have to endure multiple loss of Colleen and Michael. Wishing you strength and weakness as needed.

  20. I am Colleen’s cousin and my heart is so full of sadness for the loss of a family member. I know she has found peace and will look after her sisters and parents in a much better place. I too as many of you have… send warm hugs to give the family strength and my love to help them move forward and heal. Colleen will be missed but never forgotten. God bless those who stopped and tried to help and the hospital that gave the family solace.

  21. amy

    Thank you so much to everyone in the neighborhood for the love and support, for helping out on Sunday morning, for the flowers . . . Having lived in the building with Colleen for seven years we never expected anything like this regardless of her illness.

    She was a real jem and a sweetheart and the last thing she said to me was “You look fabulous – like you’re returning from the south of France!” so that’s what I’m going to remember. Colleen, you’ll be missed.

  22. B.A:

    I also worked with Colleen

  23. Buffy

    I worked with Colleen as well. She was a kind spirit who always offered up a smile, even though she must have been struggling herself. She was a hard woker and never complained. We will miss her very much. I’m so sorry for your loss of this beautiful person. May she rest in peace.

  24. Patrick Clarke

    I’m Colleens cousin from Vancouver. It’s been a lot of years since I saw Colleen but I have a lot of fond memories of her.

    My thoughts & condolences to the family.

  25. Ellen Clarke Fairn

    I am Colleen’s cousin and I, too, have a sad and broken heart with this sudden and tragic loss of a member of my family.I love you Colleen. You are with God, and finally at peace.

    All my love and prayers to the rest of the family at this most difficult time.God will hold you up and give you strength, this I know.

    Thank you to those who stopped and tried to help, you will be blessed.

  26. Ame

    Colleen’s farewell was surrounded by angels; the angels who tried to put out the fire with their bare hands,like healers do, and the celestial angels who brought her peace and guided her to her new home.A home where she knows how much and by how many she is loved.

    I did not know Ms. Colleen Doe, however, reading the notes of so many people who did, makes me think that God knew her too.

  27. Marilyn

    I knew Colleen as a caring, kind, sweet, empathetic soul. She cared deeply about others’ suffering and we often discussed the the events of the last decade and how they changed the world for the worse for so many. I will honor her by working to improve the mental health system, and by never backing down from the opportunity to speak for the voiceless. I will miss you Colleen so much. Your light still shines on.

  28. Anonymous

    Our family now asks that this be keeped as private as possible. Everything is to be kept anonymous, so please stop posting names. Thank you and please understand.
    -The heart of the family.

  29. Anonymous

    I suppose this is fine but we would like to limit the spred of other blogs. Thank you.

  30. Cat

    She chose to die in public so maybe this can be used to help people find better, easier access to support and treatment, or even a kinder exit if they’re determined to go. R.I.P.

    • Anonymous

      I am cousin from Santa Cruz. she was so sweet and kind. My your beautiful soul rest in peace. thoughts and prayers to the family.

    • Ame

      CAT,
      You said it correctly,” …a public place..”
      (where it happened/where it was reported)
      “Marilyn” (Above) will advocate for “mental health” awareness ( Dept. of “public” Social Services) Lastly, a soul needs no privacy-guilt does.

  31. key

    I am very sorry for your family’s loss. But I want to say that as a long time Mission resident (18th and Guerrero actually) who has battled with mental health issues for 12 years I am truly appreciative of the public discussion here. You, the family, have every right to handle your information as privately as you wish. But if we, as a community, can not discuss these types of issues at times like these, then when can we? I hope the discussion continues. I have been especially touched by the posts that talk about how people knew her and loved her. These posts help me to understand the impact my life has on others no matter how bad I may feel in the moment.

  32. Therese Stewart

    I learned of Colleen’s death a few days ago from a colleague at the firm where she began her legal secretary career. She was my secretary for three years and quickly acquired the skills to become an ace litigation secretary. I came to know and love her over those three years, both because of her indefatigable energy and enthusiasm and because of her commitment to her real passion, which was art. I never knew and it was never apparent that she suffered from a mental illness. I left the firm for a government job 10 years ago, and tried from time to time to entice Colleen to join me. I am so saddened to know she was suffering and to have lost this wonderfully intelligent, intellectually engaged, warm and spunky woman. She touched me deeply. I hope there will be a celebration of her life.

  33. mary azerbegi

    My mother once told me, “God is within you–you are God.” Not many will agree with this concept, but I did see Colleen as an old soul who communicated with heartbreaking warmth that made her a joy to know as a co-worker. To me, Colleen is still with us and will always be.
    Mary

  34. Caren Clarke

    Thank you all for your beautiful comments about my sister as it is important for my families healing process and yours to express the love for Colleen. As we heal, our family is committed to help other families and individuals about mental illness, to gain awarness and give hope that there can be the right professional treatment available, it is not hopeless. With the awarness we can work to remove the stigma and shame that seem to be associated with individuals afflicted as posted earlier by myself and sister and other family members. There is absolutely no shame with expressing our love and understanding for Colleen or others afflicted in any capacity

    • Carole Scagnetti

      Caren,

      Colleen was such a special human being, her choice so incongruous with the woman we knew, that she has not left our thoughts and hearts since we learned of her passing a week ago. Our hearts go out to you and your family and to all of Colleen’s close friends and relatives. Colleen worked for my wife for several years. We spoke often, shared thoughts about Buddhism, art and enjoyed social times away from the job. After Terry left the firm, we saw Colleen less frequently, but always found that same joy of seeing her smile, hearing her laugh, meeting her friends and hearing about what she was up to. I hope that there will be a way for those who love Colleen to come together and share all that was so wonderful about her. Her final message, that human suffering can be unbearable, reminds us that reaching out to those who suffer is the meaningful response. I honor you commitment in that regard and hope that you and your family find strength and healing there.

  35. JC

    Caren,
    Have you and the family considered creating a Facebook memorial page? It seems there are a lot of people who would like to share memories of Colleen. We did this for someone we lost a few years ago and it was really positive and sometimes very amusing. It also gave us a place to announce a public celebration of his life. I’d like to see some of her art! As always, you have our best wishes and heartfelt condolences.

  36. Caren Clarke

    JC,
    Colleen did not agree with social network, she had no part of facebook and she did not participate in any public forums. I think your idea is with beautiful intent, out of respect for Colleen facebook is not the way to celebrate her life. I am sure our family will find another way to continue a way to honor Colleen’s life and I am deeply touched by all the posts and comments for ideas and to express love for her.

  37. SC

    I am Colleen’s mother. You have NO idea how much your posts mean to me and her father. It is just so very heartwarming and comforting to know how many were impacted by her caring heart and loving nature. Please keep them coming!

  38. Julie D L

    I worked with Colleen and only knew her to be intelligent, warm and sweet. I never knew that she was suffering – she never let it show. I will always remember one moment I had with her. I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter this past June. We passed each other in the hallway and stopped to chat. She asked me if she could touch my belly and I said, “Of course!” When she did, I felt two little light taps. It was different than anything I’ve felt before – it made me smile. So I went back to my desk and I e-mailed her. She said that she heard my little one and that she already knows how lucky she is to have such loving parents. She asked if I could bring her by to meet her. I was so touched that I printed out the e-mail and kept it. Then I left my job. I learned about what happened on Monday, my daughter was born Wednesday, the 25th. I regret that my daughter won’t get to meet her. I’ve thought a lot about Colleen and hope that she has now turned into an angel.

  39. Caren Clarke

    When I read these comments, I feel love, love…pure love. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  40. Renee

    Colleen and I played together as children – we had a blast with my 1980′s tape recorder impersonating celebrities and interviewing them, taking turns being “Lily Poonsnicker”, the interviewer. We would laugh so hard! I reconnected with her again when she lived in Santa Cruz for a few years. But I’d lost touch since then. I’m so, so sad to hear about this and will miss her. Sending love to her and the family.

    • Carolyn

      Colleen and I were close friends when we both lived in Santa Cruz. We laughed a lot together. She had some great parties at her place in S.F. We’ve only visited each other a few times in the past 10 years. She was at my wedding celebration and I will cherish her memory. This is very sad news as I was just thinking I should give her a call.

  41. Jason

    I was Colleens hairdresser of 10 years. We had only good times togeather and enjoyed each others company. I was honored to cut her hair and be apart of her life. We had a lot of changes from short to long to long to short over the years, along with amazing conversation. I will miss seeing her and cutting her incredible hair. My condolences to all of her loved ones. May she rest in peace.

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