Lawsuit seeks details on death of woman whose obituary went viral

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A lawsuit filed in Boston on Tuesday seeks records related to the arrest and detention of Madelyn Linsenmeir, the Burlington woman whose struggle with drug addiction was described in an obituary that went viral in October.

Linsenmeir was in the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department when she died October 7, three days after she was rushed to the hospital and admitted to intensive care. She had been arrested in Springfield, Massachusetts, in late September, and though she had complained of chest pain, weight loss and other symptoms, her family says she was denied medical attention.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the family by ACLU of Massachusetts and Prisoners’ Legal Services, is asking authorities for public records leading up to Linsenmeir’s hospitalization. In a statement, her family said they want to know what happened to Linsenmeier in the five days between her arrest and when she was rushed to the ICU. 

“We have a right to know what happened to our daughter and sister while she was in the care of the SPD and call on them to release the public records we have requested.”

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said its in the public’s interest to know the circumstances of her death.

“Facts regarding Madelyn’s treatment in custody are crucial to understanding her story and whether or not those responsible for her care acted in accordance with the law,” Matos said. 

In the obituary, Kate O’Neill wrote about her sister’s 12-year-long battle with addiction and how the stigma of substance abuse is a barrier to understanding, as well as treatment.

“It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction,” O’Neill wrote. “We believed as we always did that she would overcome her disease and make the life for herself we knew she deserved.

“We believed this until the moment she took her last breath. But her addiction stalked her and stole her once again.”

Published initially in the Burlington Free Press, the obituary was shared extensively on social media, including by New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, actress and advocate Alyssa Milano and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump. 

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