Bride-to-be says sister found dead had 'big heart'
PLANT CITY - Saturday is supposed to be the happiest day of Michelle Nixon's life. She is getting married. More than 100 family and friends are heading to Dade City from all over for the ceremony. But Nixon's emotions are mixed. She just learned that her older sister, Lisa Renee Harris, 34, was the woman two canoeists found floating on the Hillsborough River on Sunday morning.Now instead of looking forward to a carefree honeymoon, Nixon says, she will have to help make funeral arrangements for her oldest sister. "We are just trying to get through the wedding first," Nixon said. Nixon said the last time she saw her sister, a mother of two, was about a month ago. "We were just hanging out," Nixon said. "Everything seemed fine. You would never know anything was wrong. We are a very close family." Harris "was really happy," Nixon said. "She was looking forward to the wedding." For Harris, happiness was not always easily achieved, says Nixon. "She had a big heart," Nixon said. "She was a wonderful person and a typical big sister." But she led a troubled life, Nixon said. "She was bipolar and had really rough teens and early 20s," Nixon said. She said the family still does not know what happened to Harris and that authorities have not told them if foul play was involved. She said the upcoming wedding was a bright spot for her sister, who lived on Five Acre Road west of Plant City. "She was really looking forward to seeing her daughter, Hayley, who is 13, all dressed up," Nixon said. "Hayley is going to be a junior bridesmaid." Now the children, like the rest of the family, have to cope with tragedy. "They are doing as well as kids can do," she said. "They are keeping their chins up. Hayley is older, she knows more, and is being strong for her brother." Justyn, said Nixon, "really doesn't grasp it yet. He is only 9. But they are doing good. They have strong family support. We continue to be here for them." Nixon said the family first got wind that the body floating in the river might be Lisa when they got a call from Justyn's father. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office put out a media alert with a picture of a distinctive tattoo, that looks a little like a compass, above the woman's right breast. Adam Holt saw the tattoo on a TV newscast and started calling the family, said Nixon. The tattoo was so unusual he knew right away it was her, says Nixon. Harris got the tattoo about 10 years ago in a fit of rebellion. "At first, it was a sun, but it ended up looking like she had a bullet hole in the chest," Nixon said. "She got that covered up with the tattoo in the picture. It was very different from anything else a person would have." Meanwhile, the wedding to her fiancé Jason Sands goes on as planned. "It's not like you can cancel something like this," Nixon said. "It's a big wedding. One-hundred and fifteen people are coming. You never expect to be the family you see on the news." Anyone with information or knowledge of Harris' recent activity should call the sheriff's office (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.