Uvalde shooting victims commemorated in city murals

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For days, Silvy Ochoa stood atop an electric scissor lift as she stroked her brush against a brick wall.

The artist had a difficult task: to recreate the portrait of 10-year-old Makenna Lee Elrod on a street in Uvalde, Texas, using an image chosen by the girl’s family and tell the story of his life as told by those close to him. .

Makenna was among 21 people killed by a gunman at Robb Primary School in Uvalde in May.

Every detail mattered, Ochoa told The Washington Post. Her hazel eyes must be the exact shade — a shade almost no camera could capture correctly — her mother told Ochoa. The golden retriever, her chicken, her horse, and the rest of the animals that lived with the girl on her family’s ranch should be included. The handwriting of a note that the young girl had left to her mother must be faithfully reproduced.

On Tuesday, those who experienced the shooting returned to another building for another academic year.

But those who did not survive the May 24 rampage still live on the city walls. Makenna’s portrait is one of 21 murals – one each depicting the 19 children and two teachers killed – that 50 Texas artists painted over the course of three months.

“You can’t get over it,” said Cristina Noriega, the artist who painted the mural of 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza. “But maybe honoring who they were in these portraits – they’re all over Uvalde now – brings some comfort.”

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The idea was born a day after the tragedy, when Abel Ortiz, the artist who organized the project, was watching the news and kept wondering what was the best way to help the city recover from a shooting. at school. his own children attended once.

All of the lead artists and their assistants volunteered their time, said Ortiz, who also painted a mural. The wall space was also gifted. The paint and supplies were covered by donations and funds raised at an art auction.

“The only thing in my power was art, and art heals,” Ortiz told the Post.

So Ortiz got to work and within weeks secured 21 walls, including one outside his art gallery where he painted 9-year-old Ellie Garcia.

But before any painting can begin, the families of the victims, who Ortiz said were not to be contacted until after the final funeral, must give their consent. After each victim was officially mourned, Monica Maldonado, founder of MAS Cultura, an Austin-based nonprofit organization and leader of the project, reached out to families to get to know the victims before pairing them with an entertainer.

Once she had more details about the victim, Maldonado sent the artists a form that the families had filled out with information such as the victim’s color, favorite food and activity, an unforgettable memory, etc. . Based on that information, she matched the families with the performers who had some sort of connection to the victim, whether it was personality, hobby, profession or life experience, Maldonado told the Post.

This is how Ochoa was chosen to paint Makenna’s mural. “I was a happy little girl like Makenna,” Ochoa told the Post. “We both love nature. She kissed trees. I kiss the trees too!” Makenna was known for leaving hidden notes for those she loved; Ochoa does the same.

Once Maldonado contacted Ochoa to pair him with Makenna, the artist began drawing the design for the mural. His portrait would be the focal point of the canvas. Because Makenna lived on a ranch with her family, Ochoa wanted to create a more traditional design, she told the Post.

“Each item has a meaning that connects her to her family and tells her story,” Ochoa said. “I didn’t want to make a collage but tell his story.”

The four trees to the left of the mural represent Makenna and her three siblings – those with pink flowers for the three girls and the one without for her brother.

The bluebonnets under the trees were the girl’s favorite flowers. The river with rocks with small spots of paint to the girl’s right depicts one of her favorite hobbies, painting rocks. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies fly above his portrait.

After Makenna died, an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly tried to sneak into his father’s car for about 10 minutes, his father shared with Ochoa, who chose this type of butterfly as a symbol of enduring presence. by Makenna. Before her father shared this anecdote, butterflies were purple, her favorite color. The rainbow on Makenna’s shirt was painted by his family, Ochoa said.

The day Ochoa finished painting the eyes, Makenna’s mother came to see how the mural was going. His first reaction was to cover his mouth with both hands. Then she start crying.

It wasn’t until Ochoa was about to finish the mural, visible from a main street, that Makenna’s mother realized she would see the mural almost every day. He stands on his way to work.

On her way to work, her daughter’s face appears on the reflection of the shops in front of the mural. On the way home, Ochoa said, Makenna’s hazel eyes seemed to stare into her mother’s.

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