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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Once, the fighting got the family evicted from base housing in Fort Dix, N.J. And the violent spats sometimes involved other family members.

Wanda says Ronald Lopes' mother, Gladys Chaneyfield, would become part of the disputes. And Ronald's sister, Karen Fequa, once broke a window at the family's house in an effort to defend her brother. Another time Wanda's father had to intercede when a brother-in-law threatened to beat her.

Fequa says her brother was not an abusive brute, but admits there may have been some physical confrontations.

Asked how the chaos at home impacted the children, Lisa's brother says it affected them all in different ways.

"My father made me afraid of him, which kind of put me in a shell for a good portion of my life," he says. "With Lisa it was different. She always expressed herself and felt strongly about what she believed in ... I admired her because at that point I couldn't do that. I was too scared of my father."

When Lisa was 10, her parents separated. Wanda took the children and moved to Florida. There was a divorce, and Wanda returned to Philadelphia. Soon after, Ronald Sr. was stabbed in a dispute and nearly died.

One of the first people he wanted to see was his ex-wife. She initially didn't want to see him, but eventually relented. A year later the two remarried, Wanda says, because she believed things would be different.

"He said he [became a Christian]. He got saved ... But he pretty much did not change. The fighting started, him being like a very dogmatic person. His mother got involved again. It was mainly his mother."

By the time Lisa was 13, she was living with her paternal grandmother--an arrangement her mother opposed. Wanda says her husband wouldn't allow her to go and get her daughter.

"He took me up in the bedroom and said, 'Lisa and my mother have a bond, and Lisa asked me if she could stay around there, and I told her yeah.'

"I said, 'What? What are you talking about, 'bond?' What do you mean, 'bond?'

"He wouldn't let me out of the room, so we ended up in a fight," says Wanda. "And I jumped out the window. It was a window like that over there [about the height of a porch]. It was like 11 o'clock at night and it was raining. I ran barefoot around to my grandmother's house, where she used to live at that time. I was just boo-hooing ... all I could do was cry. Wrap my arms around my grandmom and cry."

After that night Lisa was shuttled between relatives for the remainder of her teenage years, dropping out of high school and eventually earning a G.E.D. Though she did live with her mother again for several short stints, Wanda kicked her out for being "disrespectful," and her grandmother, Gladys Chaneyfield, later did the same.

"She lived with me prior to going to Atlanta," says her aunt, Karen Fequa. "She used to dance onstage at a club called Second Cousins. They would have rappers and beatboxes and talent shows or whatever, and she tried out for someone's video. This singer named Lorenzo. She was picked to dance in his video. Lisa left Philly to go to Atlanta with Lorenzo, and they got screwed out of some money. They were left down there with nothing."

Lorenzo and his manager wanted to come back to Philadelphia. Lisa decided to stay. She became involved with an early version of the group TLC (the group later replaced an original member with Rozonda Thomas). As the group's members took nicknames that began with the letters T-L-C, Lisa chose Left Eye, explaining that a guy once told her he was attracted to her left eye. Through an Atlanta hairdresser, they met Pebbles--a singer-turned-manager who signed the group to a management deal.

"That day, in January 1991, she left the meeting with Pebbles and was thinking that she was going to buy Mommy and Daddy a house," says Fequa. "Then she said to herself, 'Well, I'm going to buy Mommy a house and then I'm going to buy Daddy a house, 'cause Mommy and Daddy can't live together.' But as she was celebrating, she gets home and gets word that Daddy was killed."

Five months earlier Ronald Lopes Sr. had relocated to a house in Kinston, N.C., that had been left to his paternal grandmother's heirs. He was there to try to work things out, his sister says. He wanted to make changes. But a cousin was already living in the house, and the two argued frequently.

"He was shot in the stomach," says Wanda, who got the news soon after it happened. "I think some people came by and heard the shots, but it still took them a while to get there. I think he died on the way to the hospital.

"I called and told Lisa. And she said, 'Oh what?' I don't know if she cried. She didn't cry on the phone. She seemed really calm."

But inwardly Lisa was devastated.

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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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