Her Name Was Wanda Dunn, And We Let Her Die

You may have missed a story in yesterday’s Times about a woman named Wanda Dunn in Pasadena that set her house on fire and shot herself because she was being evicted due to foreclosure.

This follows the earlier tragedy from just a week ago, where Karthik Rajaram of Porter Ranch, distraught over finances, killed his entire family before turning the gun on himself.

They are both heartbreaking stories that are becoming more common as the foundation of our global economy continues to crumble. Stories like these should serve as a wake-up call to all of us, as friends, as co-workers, as neighbors. We have an obligation as Americans – as humans, to help each other in a time of need. It could be an earthquake, a fire, a hurricane, or a foreclosure.

It’s too late to help Wanda Dunn or the Rajaram family. I can’t help but think we all failed them when they needed us most.

If you or someone you know is facing foreclosure, start by calling the Los Angeles County hotline at 2-1-1.

CBS2 has a list of contact numbers for foreclosure prevention resources at six area WorkSource Centers. I re-posted them after the jump.

– The West Adams-Baldwin Hills WorkSource Center at 5681 W. Jefferson Blvd. The telephone number is (323) 525-3740 or TTY, (323) 931-9076;

— Metro North WorkSource Center, 342 San Fernando Road. The telephone number is (323) 539-2000 or TTY, (323) 539-2057;

— Southeast L.A.-Watts WorkSource Center, 10950 S. Central Ave. The telephone number is (323) 563-4702 or TTY, (323) 563-5684.

— Van Nuys-North Sherman Oaks WorkSource Center, 15400 Sherman Way, Suite 140, Van Nuys. The telephone number is (818) 781-2522 or TTY, (818) 374-7024.

— Sun Valley WorkSource Center at 9024 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Sun Valley. The telephone number is (818) 504-0334 or TTY, (818) 504-1974;

— South LA WorkSource Center, 7518 S. Vermont Ave. The telephone number is (323) 752-2115 or TTY, (323) 752-9215.

Information about unfair evictions and discrimination is available by calling the Los Angeles Housing Department’s rent hotline at (866) 557-RENT.

Apartments residents have legal protections from evictions if their buildings are foreclosed and can call the rent hotline for assistance.

— Residents who have been victims of housing discrimination should call
the Housing Rights Center at (800) 477-5977.

People facing homelessness or needing mental health help can call the Los Angeles County hotline at 2-1-1. The Los Angeles County Mental Health Referral Line can be called at (800) 854-7771. The Suicide Prevention Crisis Line can be called at (877) 727-4747.

31 thoughts on “Her Name Was Wanda Dunn, And We Let Her Die”

  1. Wait.. she killed herself because she was being evicted.. weak, there are things that are MUCH worse than being evicted. The house had been in her family for generations.. I guess she took a lot of equity out at a rate she couldn’t afford? Her fault.

    Set the place on fire so if she can’t have it, no one can? Childish. Oh other people’s property might catch on fire too? Asshole.

    Call me soulless, but I’m not sorry she’s gone at all. Selfish, childish, and greedy. One less asshole on the planet.

  2. I’m sorry this lady is dead but she should have taken more responsibility. Stop blaming the evil mortgage companies or wall street. She got into a loan she should not have. Like millions of other Americans who have taken on too damn much debt. No excuses.

    If it is the case that she lost her job or something, well, sorry, but that is part of life. It happens to millions of other Americans and they don’t all go out a kill themselves.

    The public and the media and the politicians need to stop blaming only Wall Street. This problem comes from greedy Americans who took on to much debt which they have been doing for 30 years. Taking out equity or using credit cards to buy ipods, big screen TVs, Escalades, and Vegas vacations. Stop making excuses and start living within your means.

  3. here’s the response you expected, bmayhem – i don’t think you are soulless, but are appallingly disgusted. don’t agree with her actions and to take out a loan at a rate she can’t afford? i’m with you. i too don’t always have sympathy for the dead. but to say, “i’m not sorry she’s gone at all” without even knowing who she was — that’s pretty fucking harsh. the article states she kept to herself and lived mostly in the dark, save for one low watt bulb. not exactly my definition of an asshole. not exactly my definition of someone who deserves to be six feet under.

  4. @queequeg “the article states she kept to herself and lived mostly in the dark, save for one low watt bulb. not exactly my definition of an asshole” By itself, no.. that’s the definition of a loner. Torching your house with no respect to others who are living around you or LIVING IN YOUR GARAGE, asshole fits just fine.

  5. @tornadoes28 and @Dave Bullock / eecue
    Yes, we helped her sign the loan documents, we spent all of her money, ate all her food and put the bullets in the gun. It’s all our fault.

  6. I have to agree that I’m not responsible, nor is anyone else if she couldn’t make her mortgage. Why not sell, arrange a short sell and move on with your life when you can’t afford the mortgage. I know many banks and mortgage companies will work with a person with the note early to come up with solutions to avoid the foreclosure. Banks will do that before they are stuck with a property. Plenty of people do that every day. The eviction didn’t happen all of the sudden, on a foreclosure it can take an easy 6-9 months to work through the courts, this woman had ample chances to fix the problem.

    In looking at the list you missed Pasadena PD. They have their HOPE team which is trained to help the homeless, emotionally distressed. It takes someone to recognize the seriousness of a situation to make the 911 call and they are there. And fast too. A few weeks ago a friend lost everything, girlfriend, job, many friends and in talking to him I knew something was up and it wasn’t pretty. The “I’m going to kill myself” was uttered and put in emails and I called. HOPE was there in 20 minutes and paid follow up visits until he got himself back on track.

    The hardest thing for people to do is not make the call to the police or a help center. More so for those who know them as they don’t want to be wrong and make the wrong call, cause the person more trouble or alienate them. I can only urge people when in doubt make the call, let the chips fall where they may. I don’t know how my friend will be over the long haul and I can tell you it took about a week for him to want to talk to me again.

    I hope I don’t come off as too much of a jerk as I do feel for the lady. I am certain we are missing more information from both parties and do feel for her, more so for her family that survives. There are many options before you lose a house in a foreclosure and even face the eviction, certainly she must have had someone she could have turned to for the help.

  7. @willcampbell
    I wasn’t born 4 days ago, so I didn’t take her place, I’ve been an asshole for decades. But at least you agree that she is an asshole.

  8. Sorry @willcampbell I’m with @bmayhem on this one. Only an asshole would put other peoples lives and homes at risk like that.

    This story would read much differently if her arson had spread and resulted in death, injury or people losing their homes and.

  9. This article sickens me even more. What the hell does the author mean by “We let her die”? What crap.

    It would be bad enough if this stupid women JUST shot herself. But this massively selfish women also decided to set her house on fire thereby endangering other people’s homes and lives. Not to mention the heartache she has now given her family and friends.

    Her selfishness is beyond belief. I have no sympathy for her.

  10. No need to appolize Mike. But I’m not trying to make this woman out to be some sort of saint. I agree that her actions were the ultimate in selfishness and cowardice. But I wasn’t there throughout whatever ordeal she went through and whatever mistakes she was unable to live with. I don’t know the pressures she was under and the helplessness and anger she felt or the choices she made.

    And I don’t know what purpose it serves to classlessly denigrate her so vehemently. To have no sympathy for her is one thing but to tint it with insults and name calling and various kneejerk opinions based on little more than media reports and an ingrained bias? FAIL.

  11. I’m glad to see we have an abundance of compassion for people that are going through tough times. This is the America I know!

    Look, no one is saying they condone burning a house down or committing suicide. That is a whole other debate. The point of this post was to highlight a growing problem in Los Angeles and across the nation. People are getting desperate.

    If you actually read the Times story, you’ll see that Wanda’s neighbors KNEW she was going to do something like this. The KNEW it. So, what did they do? Nothing. They have already admitted that.

    My point is that you owe it to society, as a human being, to help your neighbors out when they are in trouble. To turn a blind eye when someone is saying their are going to kill themselves is equal to letting them die.

    To call them names postmortem is just childish and despicable.

  12. What is this we stuff. She knew what she was getting into when she signs
    the docs. Just go get an apartment.

  13. Jason, I have to agree there is nothing “we” as in a collective group. The neighbors, maybe but we don’t have enough facts. Now to condemn all of us “americans” for a lack of compassion is equally broad and despicable. Plenty care, plenty try to make a difference. In the case of someone suicidal there is only so much anyone can do.

    The mortgage crisis has been sitting there in the wings waiting to happen since the great push in the 90’s to increase homeownership. Fannie Mae followed orders and opened up the purse and requirements. Our banks in a totally unbelievable effort to compete with the govt lending arm did the same and then upped the ante to get the self-employed into homes by limiting if not completely removing income verification. When energy prices escalated and the little guys that barely were keeping their businesses going and their mortgages paid couldn’t do it anymore things came tumbling in.

    The failed mortgage industry is only one symptom of the run-away energy prices of the last few years. The energy costs also slowed economic growth world wide, luxury items were the first hit, then g

    Even opec saw the problem high energy costs were creaming the world economy. Even the speculators backed off. Oil is under $80/barrel and could drop another 10-15% by the end of the year. That will help stimulate the global economy but it won’t solve all the problems.

    Arnie signed into law some postponements to the foreclosure process. He now requires the lenders to spend more time trying to rewrite loans, get people to credit counselors and what ever else it takes to help the homeowner keep the house and avoid foreclosure. The stall is only putting of the inevitable as too many don’t want to work out a deal to keep their home, rather are waiting for some white knight to show up and bail them out. Watch closely as there will be a huge increase in foreclosures come January when the first of the delayed properties aren’t saved and the foreclosures happen.

    The secondary issue of this post is excellent. IF you know someone is in trouble or contemplating harming themselves or others they need to pointed to the resources you brought up as well as HOPE if you are in Pasadena. Whether the person listens or takes the help is another issue and outside the neighbor or anyone else control.

    I feel for this lady. We don’t know what the neighbors did if anything because no one has asked them. (Care to walk the neighborhood with me and ask?) I can’t imagine the desperation she must have felt to do herself in, but what she did accomplished nothing but leave her family hurting.

    Sorry for the diatribe but I don’t feel it is right to blame any of us nor hold us responsible for her decisions.

  14. “I’m glad to see we have an abundance of compassion for people that are going through tough times. This is the America I know!”

    Seriously. Well said, Jason.

    I cringed at most of the comments here.

  15. @jasonburns
    “I’m glad to see we have an abundance of compassion for people that are going through tough times. This is the America I know!”

    Oh, I have plenty of compassion for the entire human race, even more so now that the world economy is fubar and good people have fallen on tough times. I don’t like to see people suffer, when it can/could be stopped.

    I have ZERO compassion for Wanda Dunn. She lost that when she set her house on fire before killing herself, which might have lead to the death of the person living in the garage and the people living near by. She also didn’t think about her family and how they would react to her suicide. The article mentions a sister that also took out the loan on the house. My sympathy goes to her family. Wanda FORCED this suffering on her family. For the selfishness of her suicide, recklessness abandonment of life of the people around her by setting the house on fire, she deserves no praise, sympathy or compassion from me.

    Now, I will take most everything I said if this was a staged murder… but things do not point that way from the story.

  16. @willcampbell
    “Nah BM, I don’t see Wanda Dunn as you do. I just see you as doo doo.”

    Doo doo? nice. I see Wanda as someone who is down on her luck, made some bad choices and now becomes selfish and a coward and ends her own life, a weakling. She could have been a stronger woman and get out of the house, find a job, generate income, SOMETHING to help herself out. So she and her sister lost the family house that had been in her family for three generations. That is a terrible loss. But that’s just a thing. You still have the memories, you still have some of the family around. There is still LIFE waiting to happen. Sure it may suck for a while, but you pull through it. That’s what makes you strong.

    Commit suicide and try to take the house with you? She is the FAIL.

    How do you see Wanda, Will?

  17. Wanda is selfish? What about Eli “i’m an art guy” Broad. 85 billion dollar for AIG. What about the 750 billion which will probably end up costing trillions of dollars? Trillions of our tax dollars. How is that going to help me or anyone else, it’s not.

    Wanda’s selfish. Wanda’s a selfish asshole?

    Why is responsibility always a word thrown around for some poor schmuck who owes a few thousand dollars probably owing to some medical bills or some other necessity like eating, but rich assholes making me pay, because they wanted to make as much money as possible, that’s a complicated issue that is going to help me. Certain members of the American public are not only heartless, but unbelievably stupid.

    Browne Molyneux

  18. People its called depression. Most of the actions she took are synonymous with depression. You see asshole i see desperation and despair and the world closing in. As having dealt with depression, i understand but do not condone what she did. I luckily found it within myself to get help,but i do agree with the author and jason, and william many of you are very harsh and a tad close-minded. Many of you are right she could have done those things like getting help financially, getting and apartment,etc.Even the simple things seem so unreachable. But my interpetation of the article is that people are so individualistic that it built a barrier to communication to each other where getting help or if she tried to seemed pointless.

  19. I think this country is on the edge of a depression. I’m going to bet lots of people are going to get depressed and kill themselves (or try to) in the near future and this oddly will increase with the free fall of our economy.

    And for the “get an apartment” solution people, how exactly do you make that happen if you are in the hole?

    You need first, last and a deposit to move into an apartment. You also need credit to move into an apartment. How do you think Wanda’s credit was, probably not so good if she was facing an eviction. If you don’t have any kids (or minor), which this woman I don’t think did you qualify for nothing if you lose it all or beginning to lose it all.

    She was also not retirement age, so again, she gets nothing.

    No amount of pep talk from a mental health line is going to shield you from the cold hard truth that if you are in LA and used to be middle class and have no minor children there is absolutely no services available until you crash into the gutter.

    If you are a single person and you lose your job you have to be homeless before they will give you anything. If you were firmly middle class at one point, how do you think the prospect of living in a shelter might make someone feel? Half of the people in LA get nervous about the prospect of public transportation, a shelter, well that probably is a bit too much for the average middle class person in LA.

    Many people in LA go from eviction to the streets. There are no safety nets. Public housing, the waiting lists are years long. And this and many other reasons is why middle income people kill themselves.

    I would do what I would have to do, but everyone is not me. Everyone is not you. Not everyone can hold it together once their American dream has been murdered. And we can’t just go, “Well too bad you should deal with it.” Because there are going to be in the next coming months lots of people who can’t deal with it. And if you think Wanda was selfish, how about a fictional Jane that decides there are no jobs, she’s about to get evicted and decides to start robbing people. Not everyone rolls up into a little ball and if we don’t deal with this in a community oriented way other people’s problems are going to become everyone’s problem.

    Everyone who doesn’t lose everything is going to have to move to gated communities to escape the crime. Remember the 80s and the 90s, well the economy just from my lay person observation looks to be alot worse than it was then, so I am going to assume some heinous crime coming around the corner. All of this pedestrian oriented, cycling, public transit, walking around thing that will be over, because people will rob you.

    See NY 1975.

  20. BM: Your view of her is as black and as white as the initial news stories about her in the paper and that’s enough for you. You’ve come to a decision based on the reported end results of her actions and felt compelled to attack her corpse with a vehement rancor that was entirely despicable. To you she’s an “asshole” and “childish” and a “weakling.” Those are easy conclusions to reach and pronounce from whatever box you and your keyboard are in.

    To wit You said “She could have been a stronger woman and gotten out of the house…”

    I don’t make such assumptions or about Wanda Dunn. I don’t pretend to know her or see her in the type of straightjacketed way you favor. She could be everything you say or she could have been so paralyzed by fear and failure that she couldn’t function rationally. I wish she could have stiffened her backbone and “gotten out of the house” and solved her problems, but you righteously demand that of her with no margin for error.

  21. Nice to see browne is back. I still disagree that any of us are responsible for this womans decisions that lead her to foreclosure or how she decided end it all.

    stellastellastella, I too have dealt with depression most of my adult life. It doesn’t excuse bad decisions. It certainly doesn’t give them a walk away free from lifes problems card either. Depressed or not you are still responsible for your decisions, any decent counselor will tell you that in therapy. Everyone has to hit their own low before they dig themselves out. Family and friends can help only in that they can point the person to resources to help them. It is up to the individual to decide whether they want help or not.

    I feel for the family and friends left behind now dealing with the what-if-I-had questions that will haunt them. We don’t know what resources they referred her to or offered up to help, but all they can do is offer and refer, it is still her decision and they will need to understand that. She would only listen to and act on what she was ready to accept. She never found her bottom needed to fight her way out she took the easy way out and hurt a lot of others around her. It is those around her that suffer now.

  22. PS. I also think everyone’s taking Jason’s headline a BIT too literally.

    Or if not, go ahead and argue against John Donne’s famous passage:

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every
    man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
    main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
    were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or
    of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes
    me, because I am involved in mankind, and
    therefore never send to know for whom the bells
    tolls; it tolls for thee.”

  23. Jason posted a great list of resources up there – I’ve got a link to one more. The California State Bar and The Public Interest Clearinghouse have just set up a “Foreclosure in California” website at http://www.foreclosureinfoca.org/, which has a ton of information for buyers wanting to make sure they get a mortgage they can afford, homeowners being foreclosed on and renters whose residences are in foreclosure (if you read the article, that’s actually the situation Ms. Dunn was in – she’d and her sister had sold the house when they couldn’t pay the mortgage. The person who bought her house, but let her keep living there, was foreclosed on in May.). They’ve also got pro bono and training resources for attorneys (including a couple of free seminars coming up on how to defend foreclosures of subprime mortgages, and how to defend unlawful detainers for renters whose landlords are in foreclosure).

  24. I don’t know if Wanda was depressed or not, but, bassed on her actions, I am very sure she was suffering from mental illness.

  25. @willcampbell
    To quote your own blog:

    To say I was appalled at such abject rancor and venom would be terrifically understated. Enraged would better define how I feel. But not so blinded that I feel this “bmayhem” isn’t certainly entitled to an opinion. Of course he or she is. Despite it going so harshly against the way I roll both morally and philosophically, I understand not everyone is like me and I respect anyone’s right to freely express themselves. It may always be the better choice to just shut up in my world, but in another’s not so much. At the same time I can hope it’s not too much to request that they would at least think about whether they’d be able to say something so soulless sitting near someone like me who might take offense.

    Because if you’re as fundamentally crass in public as “bmayhem” is isolated in the glow of a computer monitor; if you abnormally lack common decency enough to spout off something in public so vile then you’d be unfortunately obligated to either kick my ass or have it arrested and prosecuted for assault because I’d be unable to prevent myself from shoving yours out of your chair or from flinging the nearest drink at your face to douse the noxiously tactless and obtusely flammable gases emanating from it.

    Now If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black, please show me an example. You are a total hypocrite Will. You are judging me in the same light that I did with Wanda. I only knew about her by the story, and I STILL stand by my words, and you only know me by my posts here in this thread. The only difference is, YOU THREATENED ME with physical violence. You are a class act son. Oh and I like the fact that you say that its perfectly cool for me to have my own opinion, but I should never say it. Oh, but you sure as hell can voice your opinion. One word. Hypocrite.

    As I stated earlier, if Wanda had just taken her own life, yes that by itself would have been sad.. but the fact that she did not care about the people living around her by setting the house that she and her sister lost because they could not re pay the loan THEY took, is childish and selfish. (If I can’t have it, no one can) Maybe I came off a bit harsh, but I’m not going to sugar coat this. I have to assume that we are all adults here.

    Yes we may be heading towards a depression, yes people are going to lose their homes (home ownership is a privilege, NOT a right), cars and jobs… but that’s no reason to take your own life. You still have family and friends that care for you and can help you out.

    Oh and to the people that stated what about Eli Broad and the other selfish greedy assholes that, more or less, conned a lot of people into shitty loans? They have their own level of hell waiting for them. And hows this for shitty… WE (the tax payers) bailed out folks like Eli Broad and NOT the people where it matters most, people like Wanda. Food for thought.

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