Justice For ColleenJanuary 17, 2010
I am reproducing below the letter I sent to the San Diego Police Department asking them to re-open their investigation of Colleen Conaway‘s death. (Update: also sent to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, see comments.)
If you are reading this you most likely already know the details surrounding this incident, and, like me have no doubt been touched by how cruel and unnecessary her death was. Seeing the way her family responded to this, and comparing it to the way James Ray and his pack of demented hyenas reacted, makes it clear that something has to be done about this. The police closed the investigation prematurely and won’t re-open it unless “new evidence” comes to light.
There is new evidence. How about dropping them a polite reminder that there are a lot of people watching this case unfold, and a lot of people who want to see justice done.
James Ray and his staff should be charged with negligent homicide for the death of Colleen Conaway.
Post address (a letter carries more weight than email)
San Diego Police Department
1401 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101-5729
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve reproduced my letter to them below. You don’t need to repeat all the facts like I did. Just make it clear you know the details and are wondering how on earth such a case could be closed.
NOTE: I didn’t include any links in the original letter, but I include the most important ones here. Check them out if you’re unfamiliar.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (who called for a federal investigation into JRI and is also from Colleen’s homes state) has also received this letter, and a cover letter (see comments). Her address is
Senator Amy Klobuchar
302 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
I live in Germany (and I’m Australian, not US), so I’m not sure if these are the best addresses. Use the comment space to say where you sent your letters, if you have more ideas!
To the Citizens Review Board.
I am writing to urge the San Diego Police Department to seriously consider re-opening the investigation to the death of Colleen Conaway, who committed suicide in the San Diego Plaza shopping mall on July 25 2009.
Ms Conaway’s death occured while participating in a role playing exercise under the supervision of James Arthur Ray and his staff, whom she had paid upwards of $5000 for their services. These are of course the same people under investigation for possible negligent homicide charges for three deaths and numerous injuries in Arizona on October 8 2009.
I emphasise that Ms Conaway’s death, like those in Arizona, occured during the seminar. Participants had agreed to a program aimed at “reprogramming” their psychology through various methods. These are likely to have included public humiliation, sleep deprivation and physically dangerous exercises aimed at inducing fear of death, all of which can induce psychotic episodes in some individuals.
The activity Ms Conaway was participating in at the time of her death was a “homelessness” exercise. Participants were expected to pass their belongings – cash, cell phones, identity papers, to James Ray’s staff, which Colleen did, before travelling to the San Diego Plaza in the same bus (as I understand it) as James Arthur Ray, and other staff members..
Ray has stated specifically that he offers this exercise as a chance for people to face their deepest fears and to “survive and thrive” as he puts it. People react differently – some finish up slipping completely into role and eating from garbage cans. It seems to me highly likely that Ms Conaway slipped into a psychosis faced with this situation, and Ray’s staff, exactly as in the sweat lodge in Arizona, neither recognised the danger, nor were prepared in any way to deal with it.
At 1.43 pm Ms Conaway climbed over a railing three storeys up, hesitated, raised her arms and fell to her death.. She landed on the roof of a kiosk where a group of children were queueing to buy toys. This last detail is especially what makes me believe she was in a psychotic state, and not in possession of her rational senses.
This event was witnessed by at least one of James Ray’s staff, Greg Hartle, who, incredibly, “twittered” about it on the internet using his cell phone. Ray, it seems, was eating lunch (according to his Twitter account, the next four day’s worth seem to have been deleted.) Hartle may not have initially recognised that it was a participant, but given that he was there specifically to supervise a group of people who he knew were being challenged to face their deepest fears and act homeless, such a dramatic event must have aroused at least some curiosity.
I have no way of knowing what he did after that, but it is clear that he, James Ray and staff member Michele Goulet got back on the bus at 4pm without Ms Conaway.
Ms Conaway’s body was taken to the San Diego Medical Center where it was signed in identified as Jane Doe, as her identity papers were in the hands fo James Ray’s staff.
Almost seven hours after staff member Greg Hartle witnessed Ms Conaway’s death, at 8.15 pm, JRI employee Michele Goulet called the cell phone which they themselves had collected from Ms Conaway, and left a message saying they were worried about her and would she urgently call them back. Did she really not know that Colleen didn’t have her cell phone? Staff collected all possessions themselves.
I wonder why she didn’t check Ms Conaway’s possessions? I wonder when the other participants got their possessions returned. I find it hard to imagine participants getting back to the seminar room, coming out of role, having their clothes returned to them but not their cell phones or their ID. Or did they continue to sit around in their homeless clothes, so it was still impossible to notice Ms Conaway’s possessions remained unclaimed?
I find this highly suspicious. This behavior is in my opinion consistent with someone who knows perfectly well that Ms Connaway was dead and wanted to avoid not only possible criminal charges, but also prevent any bad publicity.
At 8.30 pm Michele Goulet called mall security – note that at no time were participants asked if anyone had seen Colleen. Instead after talking to mall security and the medical Center she confirmed Colleen’s death. No announcement was made to participants, who were engaged in an impromtu comedy revue and party celebration.
At 10 pm, Michele Goulet left the party to fax a copy Ms Conaway’s driver’s license to the Medical Center, confirming the identity. Note that none of the staff found it necessary to view the body or answer questions about the circumstances.
Even more suspiciously, at 10.15 pm, another call was sent to Ms Conaway’s cell phone, asking her to “urgently call us” – despite having already confirmed her death and retrieved her ID from her papers. How is this plausible? They had found her ID papers, and other possessions. They must have found her cell phone too, so why call it again before handing it to authorities? They also seem to have destroyed the journal Ms Conaway kept in the group rather than pass it to authorities.
The next day, according to former JRI employee Melinda Martin (interviewed by ABC News about the sweat lodge deaths) on the day after Ms Conaway’s death she was told by James Ray that anyone asking about Colleen was to be told “We have found her, she’s fine, and she decided not to return to the group.” She noted that he had also called his lawyers.
I understand that the San Diego Police recently stated that they would not reopen the case unless “new evidence” comes to light. It seems to me that new evidence has indeed come to light. Firstly, the deaths in Arizona and the investigation arising from it have turned up a long pattern of extreme risk-taking, with inadequate monitoring, lack of safety procedures and absence of adequately trained staff.
I note the case of Rebekah Lawrence in Australia, a woman who jumped to her death during a psychotic episode which the court found was induced by a similar seminar to the one Ms Conaway was attending. Despite the fact that her death occurred after the seminar did not affect the court’s judgment that seminar organisers were to blame, for endangering her and providing inadequate supervision.
I find the details of Colleen Conaway’s death markedly more shocking that the incident in Australia. For one thing, just as in Arizona, the death occurred during the training. There is clear evidence that JRI staff witnessed the death and abondoned the body. Even if they truely did not know the dead person’s identity, and it really did take them nearly seven hours to figure out that it was in fact one of their participants, then that indicates grossly inadequate supervision. To not notice that a person in a seminar you are leading has died in front of your very eyes is grossly negligent.
I note that this is also the defense Ray’s lawyers are preparing for the Arizona deaths – that they didn’t realise people were dead, even thougfh it happened literally before their very eyes.
I assume that the information above was known to police at the time the case was closed. If so, I find the decision to close the case premature and somewhat credulous – if in fact my facts are correct. Furthermore, the Arizona case provides a new context which I believe could be considered new evidence, namely the context of an ongoing pattern of abuse, wrecklessness and negligence.
If some of the facts above were not known, then surely that constitutes new evidence for a number of possible crimes.
I strongly urge the San Diego Police to consider re-opening this case.
I am writing this from Germany, having followed the story through the international media, and online sources. I do not know any of the individuals involved. I assume you have access to all the information I mentioned, but would be happy to clarify any of the sources I used.