In a gut-wrenching and emotional press conference, Tia Coleman – one of only two survivors of her family in the Branson, Missouri-area duck boat tragedy – said that she believes she was saved only by God and good Samaritans from the nearby Branson Belle showboat.
Many people throughout the country have praised Tia, who is from Indianapolis, Indiana, for the uncommon grace and composure she has shown in the wake of such an unthinkable degree of grief. Among the 9 family members she lost when the duck boat went down: Her husband and all three of her small children.
According to authorities, the deceased members of the family were named as Angela Coleman, 45; Arya Coleman, 1; Belinda Coleman, 69; Ervin Coleman, 76; Evan Coleman, 7; Glenn Coleman, 40; Horace Coleman, 70; Maxwell Coleman, 2 and Reece Coleman, 9. Only Tia and her nephew survived.
You can watch video from some of Tia’s comments at the press conference below. If you want to help Tia Booth and the other victims’ families in the Missouri tragedy, you can find verified GoFundMe pages and other ways to donate through this story. Seventeen people perished in the tragedy.
Here’s what you need to know:
Tia Wants People to Remember Her Family as the Beautiful People They Were
In one of the most emotional parts of the news conference, Tia described each family member.
“I want them to be remembered how they were,” Tia said of her family. “I lost nine people. I lost my husband… he was so loving…To remember my babies. My oldest son was Reece, who was on the autism spectrum, but he made every day worth living and knowing. He was the happiest and sweetest little boy anybody could want to meet.” Her son Evan, 7, was “extremely smart, quick and witty and he loved life. He was a great brother. A big brother and a little brother.”
Her baby Arya was “only 1 and she had a thousand personalities wrapped up into her 1. She would blow kisses. She would fight. She was a little fireball and my only girl.” She said her uncle Ray was “the oldest of the Colemans. He liked to laugh and have a good time. My father-in-law who had a heart of gold. He would give anything to anybody. My mother-in-law who was like a second mom…she was always there with a supportive word. My sister-in-law, who I call my sister…she was so loving, and she would do anything for her family. My nephew Max…the sweetest baby ever. He loved big hugs and warm kisses.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Tia Coleman Says Her Home Was Always Filled With ‘Little Feet & Laughter’
In the press conference, Tia Coleman said that the support of family and the religious community is the only thing pulling her through.
“I’ve had tons of family members and friends sending requests and asking how I’m doing and supporting. That’s the only way I’m getting through this. Through God. A lot of people here in the city, I’ve had pastors in the city come and they’ve prayed for me and said they’ll keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. That’s the best way I’m getting through it,” she said in the press conference.
“Going home I already know is going to be completely difficult. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. Since I’ve had a home it’s always been filled. It’s always been filled with little feet and laughter. And my husband, I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I just know that I’ll continue to need the support of my family, my friends and even my extended family and friends who I haven’t met. I’ll need that.”
Tia Says She Believes She Was Saved by God & Good Samaritans
In very specific detail, Tia Coleman described how she survived the tragedy.
“I’ve always loved water. I don’t if it’s a Pisces or what. I always loved water. But when that water came over the boat, I didn’t know what happened. I had my son right next to me. But when the water filled up the boat, I could no longer see. I couldn’t feel anybody. I couldn’t see. I just remember, I got to get out, I got to get out. I don’t know if somebody pushed me or what happened. But I hit my head on the part of the boat and when I got out into the water, it was ice cold,” she says.
“And I remember as we were going into the water, they said that the lake stays pretty warm, like in the 80s. So, I knew since it being so cold that I was close to the bottom, I’m not close to the top. I just remember kicking and swimming, swimming up to the top, and as I was swimming up I was praying, saying Lord, please, let me get to my babies, I’ve got to get to my babies. I’ve got to get to my babies. I’ve got to get to my babies. And I was kicking. And the harder I fought to get to the top, I was getting cooled down. And I kept fighting and I kept fighting. And then I said, Lord if I can’t make it, there’s no use in keeping me here.”
However, something saved her.
“I just let go, and I started floating and as I started floating, I felt the water temperature change, and it got warmer, and as it got warmer, I knew I was to the top, so I stuck my head out and I kept swallowing tons of water. The waves were crashing over my face. And every time I got my head a little bit above water, I’d scream help, help. Finally, I came up to the surface. I saw there was a great big boat out there, like a river boat. They were jumping in and saving people. They were throwing life rafts out to everybody. But I couldn’t reach it. I couldn’t get there in time. But somehow I managed to get to the boat. These beautiful people, angels, I don’t know who they were. They pulled me up. And when they pulled me up to the boat, I didn’t see anybody from my family. But I believe that I survived by God and good Samaritans.”
Tia also went through each family member who died by name, one-by-one, and described what she would say to each person now.
Coleman would tell her lost son to “be anything he wanted to be” and would tell her daughter to “always look out for your brothers. Keep the family together.” She would “tell my husband what I always tell him. We’re in this life for better or worse.”
“God must have something for me because there’s no way I should be here,” Tia Coleman added, breaking into tears at several points in the heart-wrenching press conference.