Tamron Hall is opening up about a devastating loss that has empowered her to help the families and friends of abuse and domestic violence victims.
One night many years ago, when the TV personality was working on a morning show in Chicago, her sister Renate and a man she was seeing came to visit. Hall heard an altercation happening and ran downstairs to find her sister with injuries to her head.
Hall kicked the man out — only to find the next morning that Renate had let him back into her home. Unable to comprehend why her sister would be so forgiving to the man, Hall cut off contact.
“I was so angry, I stopped talking to her and him, ” Hall tells PEOPLE. “And I didn’t talk to her for several months until my father made us make peace.”
In 2004, Renate was found fatally beaten and bludgeoned to death, floating face down in the her backyard pool at her home in Houston, Texas. Although the crime, ruled a homicide, remains unsolved, it came after years of relationships with abusive men.
Now, the 46-year-old Today show host admits she didn’t know what to say or do when she realized her sister was a victim of domestic violence.
“Our family is very strong and close-knit, but we didn’t know what to say, ” Hall shares. “We couldn’t run in and grab [Renate”] out of that environment. We didn’t want to tell her she was making a bad decision.”
However, she’s making sure friends and family members of other victims never feel as helpless as she did by creating The Tamron [Heart”] Renate Fund in support of Safe Horizon.
Hall explains that while there are places to turn for victims of abusive relationships in dangerous situations, she found there wasn’t as much aid for the family members or friends who suspect someone they know is in trouble. It was not that they don’t want to help — they just don’t know how.
The fund will supply those people with an outlet for support and advice on how they can help, with the first step calling a hotline to speak with a counselor.
“You can’t just Google, ‘What do I do when my friend is being abused?’ ” she explains. “It’s much more comforting a person on the other line. You can’t call 911 because you suspect there’s abuse.”
She continues, “What this fund will do is provide resources to help family members, so that someone can call and say, ‘My sister is being abused and I don’t know what to do.’ ”
Hall has been working with Safe Horizon for five years, but since opening up about her sister’s death in PEOPLE earlier this year, she’s been encouraged to do even more. She’s also realized the magnitude of people the situation affects, including family members like herself.
“People tweet me their purple nails in solidarity for Put the Nail in It, and they say, ‘I’m doing this for my sister who was killed’ or ‘I’m doing this for my mom who was abused, ’ ” she shares. “So you may not be the victim of domestic abuse, but it is still personal.”
Hall believes that having resources like The Tamron [Heart”] Renate Fund will provide could have made a tremendous difference in her own life. However, her work to help families and friends of domestic abuse victims has helped her heal from the regret that she didn’t know how to help her sister.
“It’s turned my guilt into a source of confidence. A source of peace, ” she says. “If we could go back and make everything better and fix it — that’s a movie. What we’ve chosen to do with this pain is to turn it into action.”