Lawrence woman killed by train on Thanksgiving was doing a ‘lived experience’ at homeless camps; ‘absolutely not a suicide,’ woman on phone with her at time of death says

photo by: Contributed

Chansi Rose Long

Updated at 3:53 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2023

A 40-year-old Lawrence woman was researching homeless camps when she was killed by a train on Thanksgiving morning, and a friend who was on the phone with her at the time of her death wants the community to know that it was “absolutely not a suicide.”

The woman, Chansi Rose Long, had spent the nights leading up to Thanksgiving staying in various camps around Lawrence to write a story about her “lived experience” within the homeless community, said Trina Tinsley, a fellow advocate for the homeless with the Jax Project, a Lawrence-based outreach program. Tinsley said that many deaths involving trains were listed as suicides but that in Long’s case it was a “very tragic accident.”

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday morning that at 8:12 a.m. Thursday deputies were notified of a train-pedestrian collision just north of Sandra J. Shaw Park and near Second and Indiana streets, said sheriff’s spokesman George Diepenbrock. According to a preliminary investigation, the woman was walking in the same direction of the Amtrak train and did not respond to the train’s horn, Diepenbrock said. The sheriff’s office and a BNSF Railroad official both said an investigation was underway. Lena Kent, with BNSF, said the incident did not occur at a crossing.

“This was absolutely not a suicide,” said Tinsley, noting that Long had two young children. “There is no way she would have done this to her daughters.”

Tinsley said she was on the telephone with Long at the time of the incident Thursday around 8 a.m.

“I heard her scream my name and the call dropped,” Tinsley said.

photo by: Contributed

Chansi Rose Long

Long had done some freelance work for the Journal-World but had not worked for the newspaper since the summer of 2022. Most recently she covered homeless and other issues for various other websites.

She had spent Wednesday night in the woods behind Burcham Park, where a number of unhoused individuals live in unsanctioned camps. She was developing a story about her experiences and was on her way out of the camp Thursday morning, Tinsley said. Thursday night was to be her last night of five staying at camps around the city.

“The tracks were the straightest path from the camp to her car to avoid the mud,” Tinsley said.

She said Long had a day job not related to journalism and that her work writing about homeless issues had become a passion project. Tinsley said when the call with Long dropped, she tried to call her back and when Long didn’t answer she assumed she was on her way to her day job.

“She was supposed to be at work. I didn’t worry,” Tinsley said.

But Long was supposed to meet Tinsley after work that night and didn’t show up. Tinsley began scouring social media and calling mutual friends, and no one knew where Long was. She said that she was aware that someone had been hit by a train that day and was worried it was a member of the unhoused community, but then she started putting two and two together and called the police.

She said law enforcement was not much help since she wasn’t an immediate family member and that they couldn’t release information about who was hit by the train. Tinsley said she filed a missing-person report for Long. She said through her network of fellow advocates that she was able to confirm it was Long who had been killed. Tinsley said she has made contact with Long’s family, who have begun the grieving process.

Tinsley said that she believes Long was able to get off the tracks as the train approached but not far enough away and maybe slipped and fell. She speculated that she may have had earbuds in while talking on the phone and didn’t hear the train in time.

Tinsley said she reached out to the Journal-World to quash the rumors that Long had died by suicide.

“There was a purpose for her to be out there,” Tinsley said.

A gathering has been scheduled at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St., on Nov. 30 to remember Long, and a fundraiser is being set up to help with Long’s funeral expenses and for her two grade-school-aged daughters, but details have yet to be finalized.

Tinsley said that she had raised objections to Long’s “lived experience” story because of the many risks involved, but she never thought that the danger would come from a train.

“Up until her last breath, she was advocating for the unhoused community,” Tinsley said.

She said it was important to get news of the accident out to members of the unhoused community, who had developed a rapport with Long and considered her a member of their “unhoused family.”

One such individual known as Renae said, “This woman went out of her way and fought for the homeless and wouldn’t let anything get in her way; she never gave up or forgot about any of us.”

Long recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Lawrence in connection with her coverage of homeless issues in Lawrence, as the Journal-World reported.


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