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.
Lopes' party stopped and found the boy critically wounded. They loaded him into the car, and Lisa, ever the caretaker, cradled the dying boy's bleeding head in her arms. Someone gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as they rushed him to a nearby hospital. Once there, someone called back to the Usha Healing Village to speak with Ronald.
"They said, 'We hit a little boy,'" he says. "Then they told me he was on life support. And then the next day he died. It was a shock."
The surname of the boy's family--Lopez.
Lisa--exhibiting the generosity that her family says was both her blessing and her curse--paid for the boy's medical care and funeral. And though her assistant was never charged with any wrongdoing, Lopes later compensated the family for their loss. She returned to Usha wearing the evidence of what she'd been through.
"Lisa had blood all over her shirt when she came back," says her cousin Jasmine Brodie. "She kept the boy's shoes and brought them into the kitchen and sat them on a chair and took pictures of them with the video camera. Then she told us what happened."
The members of her entourage listened in shocked silence, not knowing the boy's death would be a strange harbinger of things to come.
ON APRIL 25, JUST WEEKS AFTER BEING told of the fatal accident on a nearby Honduran road, Ronald Lopes found himself looking into the blood-stained, tear-streaked face of his sister Raina, who'd just been driven back to Usha from another accident scene.
"I asked Raina if everybody was all right, and she said, 'I don't know,'" Ronald recalls. "I asked about Lisa, and she said, 'I don't know.' When she said, 'I don't know,' something came over me, and something told me that something really bad had happened."
As Ronald jumped into a waiting vehicle and was driven to the accident scene, he recalled Lisa's strange behavior that day.
He'd wondered why she had worn all white in the morning, then changed to all black in the evening, pacing before she'd gotten into the SUV. When he got out of the car and saw his sister's body, he believed that Lisa--who was driving at the time of the accident--had known she was going to die.
Once at the accident scene, he unleashed a profanity-laced tirade, jumping up and down and screaming before a sense of calm took hold. He reached down and cradled his sister in his arms, just as she had cradled the little boy weeks before.
As he put his hands into her mouth in an effort to clear her airway, her body stiffened. He held her as they drove to a nearby hospital, knowing there was nothing more he could do.
"One thing I'll never forget is the feeling of having my sister's arms go cold in my hands," he says. "The hospital was like a 10-minute ride. And by the time we got to the hospital, her body was cold."
Thirty-one years earlier, nearly half a continent away from the Honduran road where she died, Lisa Lopes was born in Philadelphia's Naval Hospital.
"I was in a lot of pain ... I had a hard time dilating," says her mother, Wanda Coleman, of the day Lisa was born. "They had to break my water and they gave me a saddle block--that's when they put a needle in the lower part of your spine and it numbs you. Eventually, they pulled her out with tongs."
Even on that day, her mother and father--who met while attending Germantown and Gratz high schools respectively--experienced many of the same problems that would plague their 13 years of on-again-off-again marriage.
Wanda says Lisa's father, an Army soldier, arrived at the hospital drunk and carrying artificial flowers. "After that I was pretty much raising Lisa on my own, with him spending--just wasting--a lot of the money. It got to the point where I had to work and pay rent because he wasn't bringing the money home, and I had to file for an allotment from his pay."
As Lisa's father's drinking worsened, the marital problems escalated. Coleman says he beat her, sometimes in front of Lisa and later in front of her younger siblings. When the beatings would start, Wanda and the children would leave to stay with her father, Jose Andino, and his wife, Eva.
In between, Wanda says, her husband often bought alcohol and drugs with money that should have paid for rent or food. He sometimes left the small family stranded and penniless on military bases when he shipped out on deployments.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
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