When Elisabeth Collins and her husband fell asleep in a parking garage Nov. 21, the homeless couple were seeking shelter from one of the season's coldest nights.
Temperatures in Colorado Springs plummeted overnight to 19 degrees, and nearly an inch of snow had fallen over the city by sunrise, when David Peterson found his wife dead a few feet away from him.
"It had been really cold that night and it had been snowing, that's why we were sleeping in the parking garage," David Peterson said. "She should've been under the covers and we were each wearing three coats, but when I woke up she was lying vertical to me, a couple of feet from where I was laying. I waited a few seconds to see if she was breathing, but she was gone."
The El Paso County Coroner's Office has not released the official cause of death for Elisabeth Collins, 53, but her husband said Monday that the coroner hinted medical problems complicated by homelessness and exposure to the elements may have caused her heart to give out.
Elisabeth Collins' body was found near Johnnie's Liquor Store on 1725 S. Nevada Ave., the coroner's office confirmed. Upon realizing his wife was dead, David Peterson said he rushed over to a nearby 7-Eleven and called 911.
Collins was the second homeless person to die outdoors in Colorado Springs last month. On Nov. 6, the body of 51-year-old Christopher Alan Jacoby was found in Flanagan Park off Fillmore Street.
Elisabeth Collins and David Peterson, 43, were married in September 2009 and had been homeless on and off since, her husband said. Medical problems and addiction had plagued them both of them, and David had a tough time finding work while they were able to spend a few weeks to stay in one of Colorado Springs' shelters.
"We weren't always homeless. We had an apartment for about a year, then lived in Florida for about eight months, stayed in shelters back here four or five times. Recently we'd been homeless for about six or seven months," David Peterson said.
A Boston native, Elisabeth Collins moved to Colorado Springs with her mother after her father died when she was a teen-ager. She and her first husband, Larry Collins, did not have children and divorced in 2005, after three years of marriage.
"She was loving, inspirational, smart and attractive," Larry Collins said Monday. "She was the whole package."
Larry Collins and Peterson became friends about two years ago through their connection to Elisabeth. After her death, Larry Collins went looking for Peterson; Peterson is now staying with Collins until he leaves to attend a treatment facility in California for addiction.
"Larry and his son, Michael, they came looking for me and took me in," Peterson said, his voice breaking with emotion.
David Peterson described his wife as a lover of animals, Fleetwood Mac, the New England Patriots and good cooking. She'd lost her Boston accent, he said, but she would joke often and say life was her "oystah," constantly looking at the positive side of things.
Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the First Presbyterian Church.