Debbie Collier, the Georgia mom who was found dead and severely burned in a ravine earlier this month, was last seen alive at a Family Dollar store buying a refillable torch lighter and a tarp, authorities revealed on Monday.
Surveillance footage from the Clayton, Georgia store released by the Habersham County Sheriff's Office shows the 59-year-old mother walking in at about 2:55 p.m. on Sept. 10 wearing a red shirt with the number “34” and visor.
In another clip, she is seen buying several items, which police say included “a rain poncho, refillable torch lighter, a 2-roll pack of paper towels, a 7.5x9.5 OBD Tarp, and a reusable tote bag.”
“In the video, [Collier] appears to be calm and not in fear of anything,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement to The Daily Beast, noting that the trip lasted about 14 minutes. “All video footage obtained from the store and surrounding businesses reflect that [Collier] was alone in the van at the time she visited the store.”
Minutes later, at around 3:17 p.m. Collier's daughter, Amanda Bearden, said she received a Venmo payment of nearly $2,400 from her mother. The payment came with a chilling message that read: “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.”
But authorities on Monday said that the surveillance footage narrows Collier’s time of death “to a window beginning at 3:09 p.m. on Saturday, September 10 to the discovery of the body on Sunday, September 11 at 12:44 p.m.” Her body was discovered in a ravine just miles away from the Family Dollar store.
It is not immediately clear how Collier died, though authorities are treating the case as a homicide—and have ruled out that she was kidnapped as her Venmo message seemed to suggest. They have also ruled out that it was suicide and noted in an incident report that they believe the case is drug-related in some way.
Bearden reported her mother missing shortly after receiving the Venmo message. An Athens-Clarke County missing persons report states that investigators spoke to Steven Collier, Debbie’s husband of nine years, on Sept. 10. He told police he had not seen his wife since the evening of Sept. 9—when he went to bed around 9 p.m. He added that when he left for work in the morning, Collier’s rental SUV was still in the driveway.
“He clarified that he and Deborrah sleep in separate bedrooms due to his snoring,” the report states. “Both Amanda and Steven stated this is unusual for Deborrah to do this. She has not done anything like this before.”
Bearden told police her mother “did not have any history of mental health issues and denied any suicidal tendencies,” the incident report states. “She also stated that her mother had a bad back, and couldn't have walked far.”
Authorities on Wednesday said that, over the weekend, they investigators “were given information” that Bearden, who has a lengthy criminal record, was at the Family Dollar Store the day her mother went missing. After speaking with the store clerk, however, it was determined that it was Collier who entered the store and not her daughter.
Collier’s car was found pulled over near an old logging road about an hour away from her Athens home on Sept 11. She was found nearby “laying on her back, grasping a small tree with her right hand,” near a burned tarp, a red total bag, and the rental car she had been using after crashing her car, the incident report said.
In a Saturday statement first obtained by The Daily Beast, Collier’s son, Jeffrey Bearden, asked for “respect and privacy during the darkest and most harrowing time for my family.” He asked for the media to stop publishing “speculation.”
“My mother was persistent in her love throughout my entire life and I will persist until she is given the justice she deserves. Our lives have been irrevocably changed,” Bearden added. “Our grief is here and our pain is deep.”
One of Jeffrey Bearden’s high school friends told The Daily Beast on Monday that Collier was “the classic southern mother” who always put her two kids first. The friend said that whenever Amanda and her mother were together it was the “ideal mother-daughter situation.” Amanda had trouble keeping a job but Collier would always be there to help her daughter get back on her feet, he added.
“She treated me as if I was a second son,” the friend, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, added. “She would correct my actions if I was an ass or give me praise when I did something right. I just can’t believe she is gone.”