Tia Coleman, the Christian mother who lost nine family members when a Missouri duck boat capsized and sank, has received more than $700,000 in public donations since her personal story was revealed last week.
Coleman, 34, lost her husband and their three young children in the accident. Their funeral service and a public visitation was scheduled for Friday, July 27 at Grace Apostolic Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Colemans were on an annual family vacation in tourist destination Branson, Missouri, on July 19 when a severe thunderstorm caused the duck boat they were on with 20 other people to capsize, killing 16 passengers and the driver. Coleman’s nephew, 13-year-old Donovan, was the only other survivor from her family.
Coleman said at a press conference that prayer and support from family and friends are what she is relying on after the tragedy.
“I want to give a special shout-out to my pastor for driving down from Indianapolis to be with us. And for all the families, and the vigils, and all the people that I’ve heard about, I haven’t seen them but I’ve heard about them, keep us in prayer. We’re going to need it,” she said.
After traveling from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Branson to meet with Coleman, her family pastor, Bishop Victor Morrisey of God’s Love Christian Church, encouraged the public to donate to the official GoFundMe campaign established for the grieving woman.
As of July 26, more than 15,000 people had donated approximately $723,000 to the GoFundMe campaign, which had a goal of raising $1 million. Donor amounts ranged from $5 to $5,000, and people have shared the campaign page more than 65,000 times.
Coleman’s childhood church, Zion Tabernacle Apostolic Church, also has become a donation and information hub since the incident, said church pastor Suffragan Bishop Thomas E. Griffith.
Raised an Apostolic Christian, the widow and mom of three continuously mentioned prayer when responding to questions from reporters about the tragic accident, telling them she prayed while attempting to find her children and escape from inside the capsized boat.
“Lord, just let me die because I can’t keep drowning,” she recalled saying while struggling to swim to the surface of Table Rock Lake, where the duck boat sank.
Coleman told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the recovery crew found her husband, Glenn, holding their three children, Reece, 9; Evan, 7; and Arya, 1.
“The reason I couldn’t find them is that he was protecting them,” Coleman said. “That right there will keep me fighting for my family forever.”
Coleman believes she survived “by God and good Samaritans,” but doesn’t remember exactly how she made it out of the boat and into a position for rescue crew to find her. She recalls bumping her head in the duck boat, someone pushing her leg, and deciding to “let go” after unsuccessful attempts to swim up to the surface of the lake.
“The harder I fought to get up to the top, the more I was getting pulled down,” she said.
Coleman recalled saying, “Lord, if I can’t make it, there’s no use in keeping me here.”
At some point, “I just let go and I started floating,” she said.
The other victims in the Coleman family were her mother and father-in-law, Belinda, 69, and Horace, 70; Horace’s brother, Ervin, 76; Glenn’s sister, Angela, 45; and Angela’s son, Maxwell, 2.
The other passengers killed in the accident include: Bob Williams, 73 (who was driving the boat); William Asher, 69; Rosemarie Hamann, 68; William Bright, 65; Janice Bright, 63; Leslie Dennison, 64; Steve Smith, 53; and Lance Smith, 15.
None of the 31 passengers on the boat, a 1944 GMC vehicle operated by Ride the Ducks Branson, were wearing life preservers, according to officials. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the accident and asked anyone with video of the tragedy to contact their office at [email protected].
Ride the Ducks Branson replaced its usual website with a message offering condolences and financial compensation to those impacted by the tragedy.
“Today, we continue to focus our efforts on the families. We are offering to pay for all related medical bills and funeral expenses, return all personal items from the rescue scene, and assist with any related travel or accommodations that will help the families in their time of need,” the statement read.