Afraid and alone after her husband moved into a nursing home, Rosie Walker stayed inside her housing project apartment with the doors bolted and the windows shut tight.
While protecting herself from potential danger outside, Walker, 79, succumbed to oppressive heat inside, the county coroner said.She died in her apartment on Sunday, the 14th consecutive day that temperatures in southern Indiana exceeded 90 degrees. A niece found her body.
"She was just scared to death," said a neighbor, Leona McCraw. "She wouldn't open her windows even in the daytime. She should have been in a nursing home, but she wouldn't go. She wanted him back home, she wanted to take care of him, but she couldn't."
Neighbors said a man was beaten by thugs recently, and that drunks pass out in the grass at night. But other residents and police said crime is not that severe at the public housing complex.
"When you'd leave, she would close the doors and lock up, like she was really scared of somebody," said D. Cheshire, a neighbor who often cooked for Mrs. Walker and read her mail. "I tried every way I could to get her to turn her fans on, but she just said she wasn't hot."
The Evansville Housing Authority offers a heat shelter with air conditioning to residents whenever temperatures climb above 90, but the shelter is two blocks away.
"We have many elderly who are afraid to open their windows, and we have not been very successful at getting them to leave their homes on hot days," said Jean Tillery, assistant director for the Southwest Indiana Regional Council on Aging. "It's a very difficult issue to try to resolve."
Walker's was the fourth heat-related death in the county this year, the coroner said. Statewide figures were unavailable. Five people in Indiana died from excessive heat during all of last year.
More than 500 people in Chicago and dozens in other states died during a heat wave last month.