Murals of Uvalde victims aim to help city cope with loss
Texan artists have traveled to Uvalde to paint the victims of the shooting.
When Juan Velasquez put down his paintbrush and stepped back to look at his completed mural of 10-year-old Alithia Ramirez, one of the 19 Robb Elementary School students killed in a mass shooting along with two teachers in May, a wave of emotions rushed over him.
Velasquez, who is a father himself, choked up when he later met Alithia's dad, Ryan Ramirez, at the site of the mural.
"He said that she always wanted to be an artist and that she wanted people to see her artwork," Velasquez said. "We put her artwork on the wall, and I want her to live through her art."
Alithia's portrait was surrounded by a rainbow of color and on her shirt were recreations of her own drawings.
Monica Maldonado, the mural project manager who is working alongside Abel Ortiz Acosta, the project's founder, watched the artist and Alithia's father meet from afar.
"Her dad was already there. He's looking at the mural, and he's just completely taken aback by it," Maldonado said. "There's this moment, with two dads...they just stood there, staring up at the mural and honoring her."
Velasquez had driven from Fort Worth, Texas, and stayed for two days to paint this mural -- free of charge.
He was the first of more than 50 artists who have come from all over Texas, volunteering their time to paint tributes throughout the city to the victims of the tragic May 24 shooting, according to Acosta, the project's creator.
Support from across Texas -- and the world -- has continuously poured in following the incident. Texans, from neighboring towns and cities hours away, felt the pain of Uvalde and wanted to help, they said.
"If you mess with one of us in Texas, you're messing with everybody," said Velasquez.
The mother of 10-year-old Eliahna Torres, another victim of the tragedy, got tearful as she watched artists paint the mural of her daughter on the wall.
"I could come and see my baby here every day," Sandra Torres said in an interview. "It's a happy time because I'm going to be able to come and see her. And then it's sad because – look at all that everybody's doing...It's a blessing, but the reason they're doing it, because of our kids we no longer have...it's hard."
Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.
People in Bastrop and Kerrville -- Texas towns only hours away from Uvalde -- held fundraisers to help victims' families as well as survivors. People from Georgia, Arizona and other states sent gifts and supported the memorials.
"In a time of 'everybody's against everybody,' and we can't even agree on anything, it's good to see the community come together and remind us that we're more alike than we are different," said Velasquez.
Some of the families even had a hand in the work.
Acosta, who is from Uvalde, views art as a powerful therapy and healing tool. As he painted a mural of Elihana Garcia, who was days away from her 10th birthday when she died, her relatives picked up paintbrushes themselves and added to the portrait.
"It keeps motivating me, every time I see the families in front of the murals," Acosta said in an interview. "We know that moments like this one [change] you as an individual or as a community."
Sandra Gonzalez, an artist and teacher in San Antonio, painted the mural of Robb Elementary teacher Eva Mireles. The family turned the occasion into a "family reunion," as relatives and friends pitched in to paint the mural as a celebration of Mireles, Gonzalez said.
"More people started arriving, friends and family," Gonzalez said. "They brought 10 chairs and then they brought these speakers, and they were just blasting her favorite songs."
Family members took turns painting parts of the mural, a tribute to the woman they described as "the light of the party,"
"I wanted to capture her spirit. And I know that she was a really happy person. And that's what I kept hearing from their relatives, the friends, that she was always the light of the party," Gonzalez said.
Cristina Noriega, an artist from San Antonio, said that 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza reminded her a lot of her own daughter, who is the same age. It's what pushed her to paint Amerie's portrait.
"It felt like 'wow, that could have been my child.' She was a girl scout like my daughter. She was an artist like my daughter. Amerie wanted to be an art teacher," said Noriega. "So many of the things about her personality felt very similar to my own child."
The fresh paint and the bright colors of the murals are hard to miss. They are some of the few pieces of public art in town, and bring renewed life to the alleyways and walls of local businesses around the center of the city.
Acosta hopes this project can pave the way for more art therapy and more artistry on the streets of Uvalde.
"The families been present in the process of the murals being painted...it's part of the process where they start to cope and the healing process begins," Acosta said. "And it's going to be a long process. It's a lifelong process. The pain is permanent. So these murals need to be permanent."
ABC News' Ishmael Estrada contributed to this report.
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