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.
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.