“Mandy had a heart of gold and an awesome personality,” says Tawnya Bowie, a longtime friend of Peterson, who was found dead of an unknown cause in her Greeley, Colorado, apartment on July 5.
Best known for co-starring with Patrick Dempsey in the 1987 teen classic Can’t Buy Me Love, Peterson would have celebrated her 44th birthday on July 8.
Bowie tells PEOPLE she last saw Peterson two weeks ago when she came into Bowie’s Greeley hair salon.
“She would just pop in to visit to tell me she was thinking of me, that she loves me and that we had to get together,” says Bowie, whose husband Tim was also Peterson’s minister.
“She was bubbly, she was Mandy, she was funny. She didn’t look sick to me,” remembers Bowie, her voice quivering as she speaks. “We are all floored. We have been crying every night. We are in shock.”
Bowie says Peterson helped her family when their daughter was hospitalized nearly 15 years ago with spinal meningitis.
“We had an older son, and so my husband and I couldn’t be at the hospital at the same time. We had to tag team. When I was there, Mandy would sit by my side. We would laugh and talk. She was there for me.
“That’s just Mandy,” continues Bowie. “If you’re feeling down and she sees it, she will do everything in her power to change your mood and make you happy.”
Bowie says Peterson talked a lot about wanting to give back to the community. “She wanted to start an acting club. She wanted to help girls with low self-esteem,” says Bowie.
“She was going to start writing blogs. She told me she was going to start writing her autobiography,” says Bowie.
As regards her immediate family, Bowie says Peterson “never really talked about that.”
“I know Stella was her life,” says Bowie of Peterson’s daughter.
Bowie says she knew about Peterson’s problems – the actress struggled with drug addiction, her mother has said, and was arrested multiple times between 2000 and 2012 – but, “She was our Mandy and I loved her no matter what. People always have a past; no one is ever perfect.”
“I know she had a relationship with God. My husband and I would pray with her and my husband ministered to her. She loved my husband,” says Bowie, breaking down in tears. “I know she’s in a good place now.”