Homeless woman was loved but lost, kin say
Family wants public to know Tara's story
By TRAVIS LOLLER
Pearl Cole remembers the last time she spoke to her daughter.
Tara Cole had bipolar disorder and would disappear sometimes without a trace. She had been out of touch and living on the streets of Nashville, but she called her mother three weeks ago to tell her she wanted to come home to Elgin, Ill.
"She was supposed to call me back because I was on the way to work and we were making arrangements for her to get treatment," Pearl Cole said, "but she never called back."
Then, on Tuesday she got a call from the Metro Police Department, informing her that Tara Cole, 33, might have drowned. Soon she learned more.
On Aug. 11, as Cole was sleeping in her usual spot on a Riverfront Park dock, two men sneaked up to her, quickly rolled her into the water of the Cumberland River and ran away. Two other men staying on the dock dived into the river after her, but were unable to pull her from the swift current. The last anyone saw of her, she was being swept toward the prow of a nearby barge that was tied to the shore. Her body has not been found.
In the days after the attack, very little could be discovered about the woman. Friends on the street knew her as Tyra. They described her as sweet and so quiet that she hardly ever talked.
But Cole had a family who loved her and wants the world to know her story.
"I just want people to know that Tara had goals and a vision and wanted to make something out of herself," Pearl Cole said. "The only reason she wasn't able to accomplish that was because of her illness."
"She suffered from a mental illness," her stepmother. Carol Boyd, said. "She was bipolar and would not stay on her meds."
Boyd and Pearl Cole drove to Nashville on Friday from Indiana and Illinois with Tara Cole's father and stepfather, a brother and other members of her extended family. They attended a vigil that homeless advocates are holding nightly until Cole's body is recovered.
"She was living a homeless life, but she wasn't homeless," Boyd said, noting that her family wanted to provide care for her.
"Her illness just wouldn't allow her to make good choices," Pearl Cole said.
As a child, "she was always happy-go-lucky," said stepfather Dewitt Cole. "She always had a smile on her face."
Her family first knew that something was seriously wrong when Cole was about 20 and they got a call from Colorado police who said she was behaving strangely.
She wouldn't stay on her medications because she didn't think she needed them, her mother said.
When she came to Nashville about three years ago, it took her mother six months and a private detective to find her.
Police have not found Cole's assailants and do not know why anyone would want to harm her. Police Cmdr. Andy Garrett, who recognized Cole from street patrols, has said the crime seemed to be without motive.
Random violence is something that many homeless people say they have learned to live with, but recently it has become a form of entertainment for some.
In a series of videos available over the Internet called Bumfights, video makers pay homeless people to fight each other and hurt themselves, said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C.
The videos also show teenagers hurting the homeless — for example, taping them with duct tape and hosing them down with water.
"Last year in Los Angeles, some suburban teens … watched Bumfights and then went out with baseball bats and beat up people sleeping on the streets," Stoops said.
"People who come across Bumfights on their computers, 99.9 percent are not going to go out and hurt people," he said, "but the videos give the idea that the homeless are the new despised community. No one cares what you do to them and you can get away with it."
Leonard Woodrum, a truck driver for The Tennessean, saw a car stop next to a homeless man on Grundy Street around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. The passenger, whom Woodrum described as a young, white man, got out of the car and pulled an orange construction cone from the car.
"(He) threw it at the homeless man like he was throwing a baseball," Woodrum said.
"The driver, I think he had a camera phone," he said, "because I saw a flash when the guy threw the cone, so I think they were taking pictures."
"The homeless man said it didn't hurt him," Woodrum said, "but no one deserves that."
Many people have said the same of Cole since she was attacked.
"We were always afraid something terrible would happen to her because we were not able to keep her well," said Boyd, "but I never, never expected to hear that someone would pick her up and throw her in the river."
"She was very bright and accomplished," Boyd said. "She would have been able to do anything." •
Enlarge Tara Cole, pushed into the river and presumed drowned, had bipolar disorder, her family says.
# Aug. 17, 2006: Body in river not that of homeless woman
# Aug. 16, 2006: Homeless advocates: Too little done to find body
# Aug. 15, 2006: Friends, neighbors from streets mourn woman pushed into river
# Aug. 12, 2006: Men push homeless woman into river
# Ending homelessness
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE HOMELESS
Homeless men and women say they are often victims of random violence that does not make the news and sometimes is not even reported. In the past few years, at least two other violent crimes against the homeless in Nashville received wide publicity.
• In January 2003, Albert Blanchard was sleeping on Broadway when Eric Erwin and two friends walked by. Erwin threw a lighted match onto Blanchard and the three ran away. Blanchard caught fire and suffered second- and third-degree burns to his arms and abdomen. He spent more than six months in the hospital.