Fund raises thousands of dollars for woman's baby daughter

Renee Radziwon-Chapman smiles with her daughter Noa. Renee worked at WildCat Haven Sanctuary in Sherwood and was killed in a cougar attack on Nov. 9.

(Editor's note: This story originally claimed that the GoFundMe donation site was started by Aaron Chapman. It was not. According to Chapman, it was started by family friends and listed Chapman's name as creator for email and PayPal purposes. The Times regrets the error.)

Ever since she was a little girl, Renee Radziwon-Chapman wanted to work with animals.

It was that love of wildlife that led her to study biology. It led to a 20-year career working with domestic and wild critters, both big and small.

And, in the end, it led to her death.

Many questions still remain about what went on at the big cat sanctuary on Saturday night, but while family and friends mourn Renee's loss, many others are celebrating the life she lived and are doing their part to make sure her baby daughter doesn’t grow up without knowing her mother.

A native of Fairless Hills, Penn., a small town about 15 minutes from Trenton, N.J., Renee always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, said her mother Carol Radziwon.

“Her goal was to become a veterinarian. She loved animals so much,” she said in a phone call from Pennsylvania.

Renee graduated from Pennsbury High School and later moved to Oregon with her husband, Aaron Chapman, where she graduated from Portland State University with a degree in biology.

Click here for more on the investigations into Renee Radziwon-Chapman's death.

Renee started working at WildCat Haven in 2006, and her mother said she absolutely fell in love with the animals there.

“She loved the big cats,” her mother said. “She cleaned up that sanctuary, she made it run efficiently, and she brought in equipment that they didn’t have, like X-Ray machines. She took such good care of those animals.”

Founded in 2001 by Cheryl and Mike Tuller, WildCat Haven is a no-kill sanctuary for more than 60 wild cats, including cougars, bob cats and tigers.

“We are devastated by this loss,” Cheryl Tuller said on Sunday. “Not only was she one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family.”

Many of the animals have a history of neglect, abandonment, or abuse, and were rescued after living in unsafe conditions.

“It was her passion,” Carol said. “It was what she wanted to do.”

When her parents asked her if she would ever consider working at a zoo, or other animal care organization, Renee told them, “I don’t like zoos — they are too confining. I like the sanctuary.”

Renee is survived by her husband and daughter, as well as her sister Lori Brooks, brother Jeff Redziwon and parents, Carol and John Radziwon.

Her daughter, Noa Elise Chapman, will turn 6-months-old this month.

In a statement, Renee’s husband Aaron said that while her life was cut tragically short, her drive to help all living things has left its mark on the community.

“(She) made an impact that will stay with everyone she knew, and many she didn’t know,” he wrote.

As news of Renee’s death made international headlines, many took to the Internet to share their thoughts and prayers for the family.

Hundreds went a different route, donating to a website for Renee’s daughter.

The website, set up by family friends, has raised more than $12,000 in two days.

The website said all donations will go directly toward “ensuring Noa can follow her dreams much like her mother did.”

“The family appreciates all the kindness and well wishes that have been sent to the family as we deal with this tragic loss,” Aaron wrote to friends and supporters. “The family is also extremely grateful and appreciative of the support and generosity of the community, which will ensure Noa has the future she deserves, even if without her loving mother.”

One anonymous donator gave $1,000 to the fund. Others donated as little as $5 or $10, and many left messages sharing their condolences, or remembering their encounters with Renee.

“Rest easy Angel,” wrote Daniel Bunting, of Levitton, Penn., where Renee grew up. “From grade school to adults, you were always there with a heart of gold...prayers with you and your family will pour from my heart.”

Other donators didn’t know Renee, but were drawn by her passion for animals.

“My daughter is a large carnivore caretaker and trainer,” wrote donator Renee Gadsby. “It is a life she chooses every day and knows the risks involved. She would have it no other way. God bless this family.”

As of The Times’ press deadline, the website had raised more than $12,544 and been shared on social media sites more than 1,000 times.

“Renee shone so bright, and I am thankful that you have set up this fund to help Noa remember her always,” wrote Amy Ciesielka.

That shouldn’t be too hard.

“Even at the infant age of 6 months, Noa already glows just like her mother,” according to the website.