BOZEMAN – While losing just one life seems like a miracle after an event as devastating as the Bozeman explosion in 2009, her loss seems highlighted even more.
Tara Bowman, 36, was killed in the blast, and her death has left a lasting mark on many in the community.
“Because of the loss of Tara, this community will never, ever get past the Bozeman explosion,” said Heather Belamy with NorthWestern Energy.
“In a certain way, maybe she’s the angel that saved everybody else. That’s my thought,” added Rocking R Owner Mike Hope.
Those who knew Tara describe her as a radiant light in the downtown community.
“She would walk into a room and the place would light up,” said Belamy.
“Ohhhh, anybody who knew Tara would say that she probably had the prettiest smile,” Deidre Quinn, owner of Indulgence, said.
“You know, I remember that she always had a smile on her face,” said Hope.
Quinn also said of Tara, “She just brought light everywhere up and down Main Street.”
First responders, including former Bozeman Police Captain Mark Lachapelle, were distraught they couldn’t find Tara.
“There was no way for us to get detectives or fire crews into that area,” Lachapelle said. “From the very first moment that we responded, there was no way to get to her and that, that’s a part that’s so hard — for all of us.”
Others who knew and worked with Tara Bowman shared their memories.
“Tara Bowman’s loss of life was a really big deal, and it still is,” Bozeman Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said.
“To this day we sort of memorialize that site in her memory with the flower baskets that we hang seasonally and we have a sign right there in front of the site,” said Chris Naumann, Downtown Bozeman Partnership Executive Director.
It’s a memory shared by many on Main Street.
“She was very much a quiet part of the glue to downtown,” Quinn said.
Belamy said there will “always be a hole in the hearts of the people that knew and loved her.”
Family members invited KBZK’s Donna Kelley to their home where Tara’s mother waited.
“That was just awful. It was just awful,” Kelley said. “I can still see that house, sitting in that living room and that family gathered around her. And she seemed to me to be so in shock. As a mother to a mother, I wanted to just weep with her.”
Instead of making a TV spectacle of the family’s sorrow, Donna Kelley took a quick statement, shared her condolences and left. But she was haunted by what she saw.
“It’s hard to even let yourself go there as a mother, to even think of losing a child. Even though Tara was in her thirties, they’re always your baby. They’re always your baby,” said Kelley.
This is Part Three of a four-part series. In Part Four, we examine the rebuilding of downtown Bozeman.
-Reported by John Sherer/MTN News