Dear PoPville – Woman Shoves Burning Tissue Paper Through Our Mail Slot, Not Happy with MPD Response


“Dear PoPville,

A woman came walking down our street, got naked and exposed herself to a neighbor a few doors up from us, and then walked up to our door unaware to us and shoved a wad of burning tissue paper through our mail slot, kicked our door and left. Some of the paper stuck in the mail slot, while another burning chunk fell to the floor.

We quickly grabbed the burning paper and threw it outside and then watched the woman continue down the street knocking over trash cans and just acting, well, crazy.

We called the police and they actually drove up and talked to her and then let her go. When they got up to us a few blocks further up the street, we told the police that — in addition to the indecent exposure they had been alerted to — she also shoved burning paper through our door. The police car turned around and went back to find her. We’re not sure what happened next.

I snapped a photo of one of the pieces of the burnt paper in a “re-creation” of where we first found the burning paper.

That was nuts – and it makes us feel a little vulnerable that anyone with a mental illness can walk up and throw burning paper into our mail slot. I know that our house was a random target and this might never happen again, but we’re now thinking of sealing our mail slot shut and putting a mail box outside.

Our fear is – what if we weren’t home and the dogs were here and the house caught on fire? What if it was the middle of the night and we were sleeping?

We were also less than impressed with the actions of the police. They seemed to kind of not care too much. I fear they will just let this woman go and she could do this again – with far worse consequences.

Our living room still smells like burnt paper as we sit here a little stunned.

Update: So, we never had a police officer come back to our place to tell us anything – Did they catch the woman? Was she on drugs? Is she a sort of known mentally ill person that they have a history with? How random was this attack?

We called our local station and they could not tell us either and said we’d have to call a 911 dispatcher. We kind of didn’t want to tie up any more 911 lines with this issue, so we dropped it. Overall we were very unimpressed with the police response to a situation which – had this woman been more competent in attempted arson – could have been much worse.”

Ed. Note: We previously spoke about DC’s Mental Health’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program here. Some good numbers to keep around:

Dept. of Mental Health’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program operates 3 mental health programs:

Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES): 202-673-9319 (24hrs, 7 days per week)
Mobile Crisis Services (MCS): 202-673-9300 (9am -1am, 7 days per week)
Homeless Outreach Program (HOP): 202-673-9124 (9am -8pm , M-F)”

44 Comment

  • Google search for your police service area and the district commander. They have his/her email address on the MPD website. Let him/her know what happened, that you were unhappy with the response, and that you would like some follow up. Also, you can post on your MPD listserv and get info there. The commanders and other MPD officials seem pretty responsive to listerv queries.

  • brookland_rez

    There’s crazy people in this city. This is nothing new. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I seriously doubt you will ever have burning tissue stuffed into your mail slot again.

    I could go on all day about random incidents on the streets involving crazy people. I’ve had dozens and dozens. And for each, none has ever repeated itself.

    Just Saturday night, I was at the skatepark in Shaw and I had some crazy come up and he kept trying to get at what I was drinking while I was skating. I had left it sitting on the picnic table, so I grabbed it and put it on top of one of the ramps where he wouldn’t go. So then he kept yelling random shit and asking me for a drink. So finally to get him to leave me alone I went across the street and bought him a drink. LOL.

  • This is a definite WTF situation and seems super random and unlikely to happen again. That said, I’ve always thought mail slots were a bit creepy in that someone could open it and look inside your house. I currently have a mailbox, but my last house had a mail slot in the iron security door, not the main front door. Therefore the mail was protected and no one could actually look into the house.

  • Having served on a Grand Jury and heard lots of similar cases, I would guess she was on PCP. The stripping off of clothing and aggressive behavior are tell-tale signs.

    • I was going to say the exact same thing. Sounds like PCP behavior, especially naked despite cold weather. Info I also gleaned while serving on jury duty in DC Superior Court.

  • How about a description of the woman, and perhaps an indication of which neighborhood you live in, so that others might keep an eye out.

  • Description: She was a very short, African-American woman. I’m unsure of her age because we did not get a very close look at her. She was wearing a winter cap, zebra-striped pants and what appeared to be a khaki (possibly camo) colored jacket. We live in a row house near the intersection of 9th and K Northeast, just a few blocks off H Street.

    • Physical description sounds exactly like the most crazy person I ever personally encountered in DC! She was on a bus, walking up and down the aisle, pulling down her animal patterned tights-worn-as-pants hollering “You know you want some of THIS! I see you looking. I know you. I know you want it,” and getting really, really… ahem… manually inappropriate…
      But that was at least five years ago. I can’t believe someone that messed up would still be alive and misbehaving.

  • Related, I really like that little mail-catcher device. Is that an original thing, or reproduction of something older houses might have originally had? Or just your own idea?

    • Thanks! It’s just a magazine rack ( that is held onto the door with clear plastic Command hooks.

      To people that use a mailbox instead of a mail slot – any issues with people stealing mail out of them? I just wonder which is worse: the potential for someone stuffing something in the mail slot or the potential for mail theft.

      • I have a mailbox that has a lock with a key. If you don’t want to carry an extra key with you, you could keep it on a hook in your entry. I don’t doubt that someone really determined could break it open, but it doesn’t seem like it would be worth the effort when there are plenty of unlocked mailboxes around and a lot of theft is opportunistic.

    • Agree on the letter catcher. Where’d you guys get yours?

  • You live right by Trinidad, home of the “water” aka PCP. She was Trippin off that shit but that’s common for that area.

    • Sounds like she was gone off that watah watah aka agua aka wet aka sherman hemsley aka boat aka dippers aka super weed…all forms of PCP which is still very prevalent in DC. I see it far to often especially in these youngins running around. Many of them get on that shit and start tatting their faces up.

  • I’m sorry this happened to you, something like that should not happen to anyone.

    That being said, stuff like this happens in the city and especially in the hood.

    • LOL if you think 9th and K NE is the hood you have no concept of what the hood is.

      • well, let’s not be unrealistic. that area is still rough.

        source: sister has lived on 11th and K for three years. and i lived there for a year after college.

        • I definitely do not consider that area “rough” (I live nearby), but I lived in Carver-Langston for two years and before that Shaw pre-U St boom. I guess it’s all about perspective.

        • Anonymous 11:13 might be a nervous homeowner or someone in denial about that neighborhood. No question about it- that area is rough. Not as rough as EOTR, but rough enough that my Capitol Hill self doesn’t hang out there in the evenings.

          • Well there you go. You proved my point. It’s all about perspective. I’ve lived in much much worse neighborhoods, so to me, the area doesn’t seem rough in the least. I went from calling the cops a few times a week and feeling like I needed to drive everywhere to be safe in my old neighborhood, to walking everywhere and calling the cops maybe twice in the last year in this neighborhood.
            Though, if I was used to living on Capitol Hill (if you mean Hill proper), I probably would consider it “rough” too.

          • 9th & K NE is about as dangerous as 9th & K NW. You’ve got to be kidding me.

        • Agreed – have two friends who live on the corner of 10th and K, NE. Last May there was a car chase through the neighborhood and the car crashed and totaled my friend’s car. The driver escaped into a neighboring townhouse, but left his two co-conspirator lady friends and a bag of cocaine in the back seat.

          • 47 acts of violent crime in 2012 including one homicide and 30 acts of violent crime in 2013. I’m not saying it’s the roughest neighborhood in DC (of course not) but that my friend is the hood. Just cause there some yoga studios and yuppies don’t mean people aren’t still getting wet and kirking out.

  • There seems to be a very high bar for mental illness in DC. The police give them all a very wide berth. We had a “crazy lady” that decided she owned our house. She was sending massive amounts of letters ranting about why she owns it and that we must leave and that she was going to take the house back, and blaming members of the GVT and claiming she was an FBI agent. She started showing up on our door steps and hanging out with all of her bags. She would bring news papers and gas cans on the property. The police would eventually come when we called, but she would hear the siren or see the car coming and walk across the street to the church or bus stop and say she was not here, they would just drive away like it was nothing. We got the FBI involved as she claimed to be an agent, they actually had a file on this woman with her picture from her trying to break into the White House but they sent it to MPD, who again did not do much. I finally got fed up and sent a note to the police chief, in which I WAS SENT as a threat alert lol, ME. Ms Laniner finally stepped in and said I was not threatening her and put the precinct chief on it (he was helpful), and about 6 months later he finally sent his bike cops over when she was here and caught her on the property, they were able to talk her into going into mental health services in the paddy wagon and that was a year ago and we have not seen her since. Not sure what happened but glad , very very glad she is gone. They seemed to nto want to make a decision that she was a threat to herself or others, she had to agree to it.

    If it had happened to some body else, parts of it would have been very funny (as crazy sometimes is) Gas cans and news papers aside, she also went into like a CVS magazine rack, pulled out a hundred of those order forms from all the magazines and filled them out with our address. For six months our mail box was jammed with Martha Stewart Living, Oprah Mag, BET Mag, Runner’s Word, Dog World, Tennis Pro, etc, etc etc. For the NEXT six months were bills and collections trying to get paid for said magazines. You just don’t know crazy till it sits on your steps.

    • Thanks for sharing the crazy story. It’s a bit unnerving when the crazies decide to focus in on YOU.

    • WOW. That is one of the most insane stories I’ve heard. Sadly, I don’t think the police can actually do much unless they can prove she is a danger to herself or others and in order for that to happen she pretty much has to hurt someone or herself. It’s seriously messed up. That would be such a scary thing to go through.

      • I don’t know, seems like repeated trespassing is enough cause for police involvement! They could have taken photos/video of her on the property.

    • If you haven’t heard this already, I think you will “appreciate” this story from This American Life. Your situation was bad, but it could have been worse! It’s Act 2:

  • I think that people who are dismissing this are being a bit too casual about the fact that this woman inserted FIRE into a person’s home. That is intent to cause arson, and could lead to serious harm of many sorts.

    • Agreed. I called the cops on an ill arsonist and the cops didn’t even show up.

    • What would you say is an appropriate response?

      • She is has committed a Malicious burning, destruction, or injury of another’s property as per D.C. Code § 22-303.

        “Whoever maliciously injures or breaks or destroys, or attempts to injure or break or destroy, by fire or otherwise, any public or private property, whether real or personal, not his or her own, of the value of $ 1,000 or more, shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or shall be imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, and if the property has some value shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned for not more than 180 days, or both.”

        This was a serious crime that demands a serious response. I have no idea why police would just allow a felony suspect to remain at large like this.

  • This is a tough situation for cops. Should they have arrested this woman for attempted arson? It would take so many resources. Assuming they brought her in and this woman were charged, a public defender would have to put up a crazy-lady defense. Then what? A trial? That wouldn’t make any sense. It’s crappy that this has the potential of happening again, but there’s a very difficult public policy question lurking here. I think I vote for the cops to let her go since they’re in the business of catching crooks. Maybe we need to put more pressure on cops to help with the institutionalization of these sorts of crazies, but there are a ton of crazies in DC. That would take up even more resources. Tough calls, but I think this criticism of the police work here might be a bit much.

    • How to free up some of those resources… hmmm…

      Maybe stop hassling kids for WWB? Maybe stop locking up anyone (well, anyone not white) found with an ounce of weed?

    • Yes. It is a policy problem that transcends the police. The police are ultimately hamstrung by the laws restricting how they deal with the mentally ill. After reading about the police contacts that Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, had in the weeks leading up to the actual shooting, I questioned an MPD officer about this. It seemed there were opportunities to do something about Alexis, especially when he told Rhode Island police he was hearing voices and was a Navy contractor. The man was in severe pain. The officer, my neighbor, told me that the police walk a fine line and are very much limited in what they can do. Our society currently gives a very wide berth to the seriously mentally ill and avoids institutionalization at all costs. However, that insistence on keeping the insane among us leads to the same old story again and again: Lanza, Alexis, Loughner, Aorora shooter…………

    • “Should they have arrested this woman for attempted arson?”

      YES. Or she could’ve been FD-12’d as a danger to herself (exposure in cold temps) and others and brought to CPEP.

      “Assuming they brought her in and this woman were charged, a public defender would have to put up a crazy-lady defense. Then what? A trial? That wouldn’t make any sense.”

      Well, involvement in the criminal justice system could have led to mental health court to get her voluntary treatment, or had her sent to St. E’s to take medication and see if that helped her. Even if she were in jail she’d be warm and have mental health services. It also would have established a record of behavior that could be useful to someone trying to get guardianship of her, if she ever applied for disability benefits, or just to deal with other criminal conduct.

  • What’s WWB?

  • I live in the H St area now, but had a similar situation in Glover Park. A few years ago. A white woman in her mid 40’s smashed open 2 windows on the first floor of the row home I was renting in the middle of the night while reciting scriptures from the bible. When the police arrived they informed me it was not worth pressing charges because she would be released by the judge due to her mental illness. The best they could due was send her to a psych ward for a 24-hour evaluation to determine if she was a threat to herself or the public, but would most likely be released after 24-hours.

  • That is arson. They should have arrested her.

  • Isn’t it a Federal felony for anyone but a USPS letter carrier to put stuff in a mail slot? Pretty sure that alone should have warranted more police action than you got.

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