TAMPA — Lisa Renee Harris got a tattoo shortly after her 18th birthday, mostly because she could.
"It was her 'I'm-an-adult' kind of thing, her 'mom-can't-tell-me-what-to-do' kind of thing," said Debbie Nixon, her mother.
She wanted a sun, but the tattoo placed above her right breast didn't come out well. So she had it turned into a nautical compass, Nixon said.
That was 16 years ago.
On Monday, the tattoo helped family members identify Harris, 34, whose body was discovered in the Hillsborough River on Sunday. Adam Holt, the father of Harris' son, Justyn, 9, saw a news report with a photo of the tattoo. He recognized it and called Harris' father, who called his wife.
"I was like, 'no, no, no,' " she said. "I don't know anything about a girl found in a river."
But Nixon already suspected something was wrong. She hadn't heard from her daughter for a couple of weeks. Though Harris lived in Plant City, she would regularly call her mom and her daughter, Hayley, 13, who lives with Harris' parents in Forest Hills.
On Tuesday, deputies confirmed Harris' identity with medical records. Later in the afternoon, her three younger sisters gathered at their parents' home and shared memories of the woman they knew.
Harris, a Chamberlain High School graduate, would insist that her sisters wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of Gatorade when they went to the beach. She would also look out for her elderly neighbors, Nixon said.
"She was very protective," said her sister, Melanie Sands, 33.
Family members said they have no idea how Harris ended up in the river or if foul play might be involved. Investigators still don't have a cause of death.
Sheriff's Office records show Harris has been arrested in Hillsborough County 18 times since 1999 on charges that include driving under the influence, grand theft auto and possession of cocaine and Xanax. She pleaded guilty to battery in 2003, petty theft in 2004 and possession of a controlled substance in 2005. She also was convicted of battery and criminal mischief in 2008.
Her family said she suffered from bipolar disorder. She didn't have a job and lived on disability. She often found the "wrong crowd," her sister said, but her mother said she moved to Plant City to stay out of trouble. She loved to take her kids to theme parks, especially the Universal parks in Orlando. "But she was a chicken with the rides," said her sister, Kimmy Nixon, 22.
Harris' daughter, Hayley, said simply, "she was my best friend."
Detectives are asking anyone with information or knowledge of Harris' recent activity to call the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.