A troubled transgender woman set herself on fire earlier this week and may have committed suicide in a ‘political’ protest against online bullying.
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Oregon native Chloe Sagal self-immolated Thursday afternoon at Lownsdale Square, across the street from the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland.
Witnesses managed to douse the flames and call paramedics to the scene. Hospital official at Legacy Emanuel Hospital later announced, however, that the 31-year-old had succumbed to her wounds.
Friends and family described Sagal as a ‘brilliant’ but ‘tortured’ artist who struggled with mental health issues for most of her short life.
Respected in the gaming community as an accomplished developer, Sagal was also an eclectic artist with a vast array of talents and interests, known for writing her own music and forging ‘authentic weapons.’
‘Chloe was brilliant and rarely got a chance to show it,’ AJ Luxton, a friend of Sagal’s, told The Oregonian via email Friday.
‘She created enchanting video games, she built things, she volunteered with Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina, she taught herself to read despite severe dyslexia.’
Sagal also struggled with online harassers who mercilessly attacked her for her lifestyle. The online abuse ultimately escalated into a full-fledged bullying campaign that friends believe may have pushed her over the edge.
In 2013, Sagal found herself in the cross-hairs of what New York Magazine called ‘the web’s biggest community of stalkers,’ a ‘hate mob’ known as Kiwi Farms.
It was during that year that Sagal began a crowdfunding project to raise money for what she claimed was a life-saving treatment for metal poisoning.
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Members of Kiwi Farms, whose participants ‘specialize in harassing people they perceive as being mentally ill or sexually deviant in some way,’ began targeting Sagal and revealed that the money was actually being raised for her gender surgery.
According to friends, the attacks left Sagal so distraught that it kept her from working and slowly ate away at her mental stability.
‘One factor that made it much harder for her to get help was that whenever she talked about suicide,’ one friend told the Oregonian, Kiwi Farms members ‘would report her Facebook page and get it locked down. This had happened multiple times in the month prior to her death.’
Just days before her demise, police detained Sagal after receiving reports that she intended to harm herself, according to Sgt. Chris Burley, Portland Police Bureau spokesman.
She was taken to Unity Center for Behavioral Health for 48-hours of observation and then released.
On Wednesday, Sagal walked into Lownsdale Square at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Main Street and sat down clutching papers in her hand.
‘She was reading a statement about homelessness and mental health issues,’ eyewitness Donna Maxey told The Oregonian.
And then ‘she got out a gallon bottle and poured what looked like dirty water over her head… I thought maybe she’s really hot,’ said Maxey.
‘All of a sudden I saw a blue lighter,’ Maxey said. And then, Sagal was engulfed in flames.
In what police are describing as a suicide note, Sagal says that the culmination of her life experiences necessitates that her death must be ‘political.’
‘My death cannot be silent,’ Sagal says in the note. ‘It has to be loud and political. My entire life, my experience, my education has led up to this moment. I can only expect trauma and death from my existence.’
It’s not exactly clear what she was protesting about.
Police say that they are still investigating the circumstances of Sagal’s death and are expected to release a full report in the coming days.