Remembering the 17 victims of the Branson duck boat tragedy
A Higginsville couple celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. An Illinois grandmother taking her granddaughter on a special trip to Branson.
An Indianapolis youth football coach — “a community legend” — visiting with his family of 11 on vacation, and only two survived.
Seventeen passengers — including four children and a teenager — died Thursday night on Table Rock Lake when the Ride the Ducks boat they were on sank in violent waves and swells of whitecaps, caught in the midst of a severe storm.
Here are the stories of the victims:
‘This feels like a nightmare’
An Indianapolis family of 11 was aboard the duck boat when it sank, killing nine of them.
Gov. Mike Parson met Friday with the two surviving relatives, a 13-year-old boy and his aunt, said spokesman Steele Shippy. He spent time with them at Cox Medical Center in Branson, where they were being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening.
The family was visiting southwest Missouri as tourists, the governor’s office said.
“It just doesn’t seem quite right,” said Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for the governor. “This is a devastating day for Missouri.”
Five of the victims were adults and four were children younger than 10, according to a list provided by the Stone County Sheriff’s Office.
The family members were identified 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.
Horace “Butch” Coleman had been involved in a youth football organization for over 40 years, according to the league’s Facebook page.
“With a heavy heart this feels like a nightmare ... RIP to a community legend but most importantly a man to his family,” the group said in a statement posted Friday.
Marlon Anderson Jr., 17, posted to his Facebook page that “Coach Butch had an impact on kids in our community by bringing them together to play the game of football, but not only did he coach football, he coached us in life as well.”
Anderson called Coleman a “father figure.”
Paralegal Tia Coleman, who survived the trip along with her nephew, is a supervisor at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
“My heart is very heavy,” she told Indianapolis TV station FOX59. “Out of 11 of us, only two of us surviving — that’s me and my nephew. I lost all my children, my brother-in-law.”
A wedding anniversary
Sobbing in grief and anger, Karen Abbott swung into the Ride the Ducks parking lot Friday night, wanting retribution for the death of her loved ones.
“I think this company should have their ass sued off of them and every penny they made should be returned to every victim that’s ever lost their lives in this,” she said.
The pain in her voice was palpable.
Abbott was supposed to be driving down to Branson to meet her brother, William Bright, of Higginsville, and her sister-in-law, Janice of more than 40 years.
“I knew nothing about this until this morning at work, when my boss was discussing the accident,” she said. It was only then that she found out that her brother and sister-in-law were among the duck boat victims.
“Needless to say, I fell apart because I couldn’t reach them on cellphones,” she said.
William Bright, 65, and his wife, Janice, 63, had come down to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Abbott had planned to meet them. The Brights have three daughters and 16 grandchildren, and were expecting their 17th.
Abbott talked of her brother as her “best friend in the whole world.”
“It was just he and I,” she said.
Their father died 41 years ago, their mother 31.
Her life is now in upheaval. Abbott lives in Mountain View, Mo.
Before reaching Branson, her stop was in Springfield at the coroner’s office to retrieve her brother and sister-in-law’s belongings.
“I was coming down today after work to spend the rest of the weekend with them,” Abbott said. They’d planned on seeing the “Million Dollar Quartet.”
“Most people say they don’t like their sister-in-laws,” she said. “I’ve loved Janice for 47 years. She was my friend before she was my sister.”
‘Her grandmother saved her’
Todd Dennison of Sherrard, Ill., choked back tears as he made his way into Branson City Hall just before 9 a.m. Friday.
Dennison’s mother, Leslie Dennison, and his 12-year-old daughter, Alicia, were on the duck boat that sank.
His daughter is now in the hospital, injured, mostly emotionally. His mother did not make it.
Leslie Dennison, 64, was in Branson with her granddaughter for a special trip together. They had just made it to town Thursday evening when they headed to the dock.
“They were here less than an hour,” Dennison said.
He said his mother barely had enough time to drop off their luggage at their hotel, before they went to board the boat.
Later Thursday night, in the hospital, Dennison said, his daughter told him how the boat sank. Suddenly submerged, she could feel her grandmother from below pushing her upward.
“She said her grandmother saved her,” Dennison said.
Later on Facebook he wrote, “The thing (is) she truly cared about Alicia she helped to safety and I look at her as a hero!!”
‘A great man of God’
Friends and co-workers have identified former church pastor Robert “Bob” Williams as the driver of the ill-fated duck boat.
“He was an outstanding individual and one of the most humble people I’ve ever known,” said friend Tony Krukow.
Williams, 73, was known as Pastor Bob at the King’s Cathedral in Providence, R.I., where he had served as associate pastor and elder for more than a decade before he and his wife moved to the Branson area.
Reached by email Friday, Bishop Jeffery A. Williams, Robert Williams’ son-in-law, said Robert Williams was a founding member of the church and served with honor.
“Pastor Bob was a Prince of a Man, loving, kind, and generous, whose loss to our family is incalculable,” Jeffery Williams said.
He added that his father-in-law was “undoubtedly trying to save others” when he lost his own life.
Before going to work for Ride the Ducks, Williams worked for the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai in Branson for several years before leaving in 2015, said manager Cathay Tan.
“Bob will always be part of our family,” Tan said Friday.
He and the acrobats who worked there called one another “buddy,” she said.
“He was a great friend,” Tan said. “He was always positive and happy.”
Many people who knew Williams turned to social media Friday to share the affection they had for him.
“He was a great man of God and is without a doubt with Jesus tonight,” Josie Brinae Sherrow posted.
“I am at a loss,” one man tweeted, “but I know today he is in heaven with God.”
The ‘life of the party’
In their first vacation together after roughly five years of dating, Bill Asher, 69, and Rosie Hamann, 68, made a last-minute decision to travel to Branson instead of Nashville, according to the couples friends.
The St. Louis couple were two of the 17 people killed when a Ride the Ducks boat capsized on Table Rock Lake in Branson Thursday night.
Gene Ackmann had been messaging Asher just days before the trip giving the couple advice on Nashville sites. However shortly before they were set to leave he received a message from Asher. “Change of plans – we are headed to Branson,” he said.
“You just sit there and think about I wish they would have gone to Nashville,” Ackmann said.
Asher and Hamann were made for each other, according to Rhonda Forbes, who had known Hamann since high school
“They were the perfect couple,” Forbes said. “They were like teenagers in love.”
Four the last four years they’d been working with Forbes in a small nonprofit to benefit veterans, the Staff Sergeant Ron Bozikis Memorial organization. The seven-member organization raised money to donate to other veterans groups.
Asher, a Vietnam veteran, was in charge of entertainment for the group. He picked up DJing after retiring and had already made a habit of doing events free whenever veterans were involved. The couple were consistently the life of the party.
“They both had personalities out of this world,” Forbes said. “They both loved to dance and they did the imperial like no one you’d ever see.”
A match to Asher’s DJing and love of music, Hamann was a former professional dancer. Forbes said she would travel with her husband for her dancing career before he passed away.
Every year the couple hosted a party for graduates of Cleveland High, Hamann’s alma mater, complete with oldies music.
Ackmann said he became friends with the couple because they were regulars at performances by his “oldies” band, Butch Wax and the Hollywoods.
“They had a lot of friends,” Ackmann said. “They’d show up at some event and it would be Bill and Rosie and they would bring 30 or 40 people with them.
Last night the band played “Old Time Rock and Roll” as a tribute to the couple.
Their friends took to Facebook to remember the St. Louis couple.
Kelly Kientzy, the daughter of Asher’s best friend, said she grew up listening to stories about Asher and her father.
“Bill was always the life of the party and he was never without a story,” Kientzy said.
Asher was known for DJing at events for Cleveland High School in St. Louis, Hamann’s alma mater.
A friend named Greg Stone posted: “Rosie always had a big smile and kind words for everyone. Bill would always be the DJ at the Cleveland events. They were what you would call the life of the party in a very good way.”
The couple were large supporters of local musicians, according to the Facebook page of Sh-Boom, a band they followed.
“Two of those who died, Bill Asher and Rose Heupel Hamman (sic), were regular followers of SH-BOOM for years and attended many of the band’s shows. They were big supporters of St. Louis bands and oldies music. Bill told us that ‘Just My Imagination’ was their favorite song that SH-BOOM performed. Bill was also a DJ who donated his services for many veterans events. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and friends. Bill and Rosie, you will be missed. RIP.”
‘He cared about everyone’
Lance Smith, 15, was just beginning to open up at his church in Arkansas less than a week before he and his father, Steve Smith, 53, were killed during a visit to Branson, according to a story by The Christian Chronicle.
Lance Smith’s sister apparently was also on the boat but survived and his mother was shopping, according to a Twitter post by someone who knew the family.
“The father & son didn’t make it, the daughter did,” user @ wrote. “The mother was shopping. I’m literally sick to my stomach.”
Lance’s father was a deacon at Osceola Church of Christ in Arkansas, according to a Facebook post by Sebring Parkway Church of Christ in Sebring, Fla., that asked for prayers.
“He was the perfect example of humility and compassion!” the post said of Lance. “He cared about everyone. My heart breaks, but I know where they are, and I know that I will see them again!”