Over the Waterfall

A vale of mystery surrounded Philly native Lisa Lopes' short life. Her family speaks out publicly for the first time about the strange circumstances of her death.

By Solomon Jones
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Aug. 14, 2002

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When Lisa Lopes, star of the hip-hop/R&B trio TLC, arrived in Honduras--a small, impoverished Central American nation wedged between Guatemala and El Salvador--it was 100 degrees and it was only late March.

The sun was beating down on the 13 concrete huts in herbalist Dr. Sebi's Usha Healing Village, a compound at the base of flourishing green hills near the town of Jutiapa. But the smothering heat was a welcome respite for the 30-year-old Philadelphian, who'd overcome the turbulence of her upbringing to become a Grammy Award-winning recording artist. Honduras represented an escape from hangers-on, abusive relationships, constant turmoil and a nagging sense of loss that she'd been carrying for more than a decade.

"She was just looking for something different to do with her life," says her 51-year-old mother, Wanda Coleman. "She had been drinking all the time. She wasn't happy. She would have blackouts, didn't know what was happening. She said she had a split personality. I don't know if I believe it, but she said she would be another person."

For three years Lopes--a generous free spirit who gave even when there was nothing left--found refuge in the place she referred to as "the bush." Usha Village's electric therapy, thermal baths, natural saunas and herb compounds offered physical and emotional healing, not only from the rigors of fame, but from the haunting memories of her past and a grave premonition of her future.

In Honduras, she fasted and devoured books on Christianity, Buddhism and spiritual communication. She consumed herbs that she believed took her to a higher spiritual plane. She told those close to her that she communicated with the spirit of her father, the late Ronald Lopes Sr., whose 1991 murder haunted her.

But in the midst of the physical cleansing that transformed her, giving her a peace that sometimes showed through in her face, Lisa had dreams and portents. Not the least of which, according to those who knew her best, was a premonition of her own death.

"WHEN WE WERE IN HONDURAS, me and Lisa had a chance to take a ride by ourselves," says her brother, Ronald Lopes, who traveled there with Lisa, their sister Raina and a number of others, including a four member-singing group called Egypt that Lisa was mentoring.

"She was telling me about a dream she had," recalls her brother. "It was two lions that bit off two heads. And she told me that she thought something was going to happen on this trip. But she felt that it was going to be one of the girls in Egypt. Two of them are Leos and two of them are Geminis. She said she felt as though it's inevitable that something was going to happen."

Two weeks into the visit something did.

Lopes and other members of her entourage left the Usha Healing Village in a car driven by her assistant, Stephanie Patterson. That evening, according to those who were there, the stifling Honduran air was filled with foreboding.

Ronald sensed it while watching vultures devour a horse's carcass and a flock of birds making shrill, screaming noises from the trees. Lisa's cousin, Jasmine Brodie, felt it in the very walls of the huts where they were staying.

"The air out there was thick," says Brodie. "We were staying where people who were sick went to get well. They would take the herbs to get better, and if they didn't get better they died there. A few people died in the room, and when I was in the room, I felt them ... 'Haunted' is a pretty strong word. But I would say there were spirits in the room."

Brodie says she could feel their presence, not just in the huts, but in the air. It made her uncomfortable and afraid, and eventually caused her to make an early return to the States on April 13.

But not before the night of the first accident.

IT WAS DARK WHEN THE CAR DRIVEN BY Lopes' assistant left the village. It's commonplace for people to walk the roads that wind through Honduras, and it's often difficult to see pedestrians. When a family crossed the road in front of their car, there was the thud of a little boy's body slamming against the vehicle.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Laura deAndrade-Baptista said... on Feb 1, 2011 at 08:25PM

“Just read this article; very interesting......I did not know Lisa but her great grandfather Immanuel Lopes was my Uncle (my father's brother) We are of Cape Verdean descent. I wondered what happened to her Uncle Anthony as he stopped calling me........now I sadly know he is deceased.........when she passed away, I left a comment on her memorial page.........I never heard from her camp.......I am not a "groupie" , I just want to say, I wished I had known you and I know you are very happy now resting with our Lord.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:00PM

“Unfortunately, people fall victim to what they strongly believe in. That belief can edify or destroy ones life. There are two forces operating in this world Jesus and satan. One speaks life eternal and the other speaks death eternal. It is important for every soul to seek a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and He will keep you in perfect peace and lead you in a path or righteousness for his name sake. Stay in the word of God, read your bible and lean not to your own understanding and the Lord shall direct your path. Read Proverbs Chap 4 & 5. God Bless!”

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3. Angelo said... on Jun 26, 2011 at 11:08AM

“Laura, how could her great grandfather be your uncle. Anthony was Lisa's uncle. For him to be your uncle, then you'd be her cousin, which means one of your parents is a brother/sister of Lisa's father, Ronald. For Lisa's great grandfather, Immanuel to be your uncle and for Lisa's uncle Anthony to also be your uncle is impossible. Perhaps you were not contacted by her "camp" because your story doesn't hang together!”

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4. Jane Hoffman said... on Aug 10, 2011 at 05:25AM

“I followed the group for years. I am not a "music" person but their music touched a true nerve and openness with me. I was very sad after her death. I sent her mother a rap I wrote in honor of Lisa.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:38PM

“Her dad moved to Kinston N.C my hometown i wonder who was the cousin he came down here to stay with. Y did they get into an argument and where did they stay at? because Kinston is such a historic town the house is probably still standing....Wish i knew which one it was or who they were?”

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6. Lisa said... on Aug 13, 2012 at 04:40PM

“@Angelo, You probably will never read this, but if you actually paid attention when you read Laura's post you would see she never said that Anthony was also her Uncle. She said that she'd wondered why she hadn't heard from LISA'S Uncle Anthony.”

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7. Cortnei said... on Oct 22, 2013 at 05:28PM

“I cant believe lisa died she was so pretty”

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8. Johnny said... on Mar 29, 2014 at 04:13PM

“Damn this was sad to read, and is almost chilling. I was thinking about taking a trip to Dr.Sebi's village in Honduras too myself but after reading this article I think I'm good on that and would instead get back in church, pray, meditate and try to do other things to relieve my stress and anxiety. Lisa was so beautiful, talented and had a lot to offer to the world and though her life was short she touched so many people's lives while she was here. I mean to think that it has been years since she left the earth yet she is still inspiring others, and she has surely inspired me. So with that being said R.I.P Lisa and thanks to Philadelphia Weekly for conducting the interviews and getting the information to make this great article necessary as well as not taking it down since it is so old and some sites actually would. I just know Lisa is now resting in a better place and is with the Lord. She probably even got to reconnect with her father and reconnect with Tupac too. You never know!”


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