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Color del dolor: 21 Uvalde murals of Robb Elementary victims use paint to heal pain

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 1/6/2023 Luz Moreno-Lozano, Austin American-Statesman

Editor’s note: Our story has been updated to reflect an updated list of artists for the murals of Jackie Cazares, Makenna Elrod, Jose Flores, Layla Salazar and Rojelio Torres.

UVALDE — More than two dozen artists from across Texas spent this past summer memorializing the 21 victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in a series of murals for the Healing Uvalde project.  

Each of the 21 murals that dot downtown Uvalde tells a story about that person: the Girl Scout who saved her friends, the child who always was the life of the party, the aspiring lawyer, or the couple who shared a timeless love.  

Lee en Español:21 murales en Uvalde de las víctimas de la Primaria Robb utilizan la pintura para sanar el dolor

Abel Ortiz Acosta, who lives and teaches in Uvalde, partnered with Monica Maldonado, founder of Austin-based nonprofit MAS Cultura, to organize the three-month project that wrapped up in September.  

“We know that art heals,” Maldonado said. “We wanted to use that to help this community heal but also show solidarity and be in unity with Uvalde. There is no doubt in my mind that this is part of their healing journey, and for many families we hope this lets them know that their kids and teachers matter and they won’t be forgotten.”

(Click menu icon at top left of map to see full list of murals)

Nevaeh Bravo: Heaven spelled backwards 

Artist: Brittany Johnson Assistant artist: Efren Rebugio Jr. 

Ten-year-old Nevaeh Bravo's parents told Austin artist Brittany Johnson that she was an artist and liked drawing. They shared some of her drawings with Johnson.  

Johnson said they recreated the two blue birds and the rose next to Nevaeh's portrait from the child's drawings. She added a second rose to signify her parents. A third bird was added so there is one for each of her siblings.   

Nevaeh was also very particular about her hair. In her portrait, the last school picture she took, Johnson said she made sure to capture her long, brown, beautiful curly hair just the way Nevaeh liked to wear it.  

Her favorite colors were pink and purple – the backdrop of her mural – and she loved butterflies. Johnson created two butterflies at two ends of a ribbon reading “I love you” in Nevaeh' original handwriting. The rose heart was another Nevaeh creation. Her love for softball also sits in a heart below the birds. 

Nevaeh also liked TikTok. But Johnson wanted to add another level to that infatuation by including a comment box symbol – similar to the one on the app – with a box below it for her family to write messages. Nevaeh’s parents and siblings all signed it and wrote a message to her.  

Johnson said what was also unique about Nevaeh’s mural was how some of the elements came together spiritually. Nevaeh is heaven spelled backwards, and the blue birds she drew, Johnson later learned, symbolize joy and hope, and are also a connection between the living and those who have passed away. The “I love you” ribbon above her head almost acts as a halo, which was a happy coincidence.  

The fact that Nevaeh liked to draw just made the project even more meant to be, Johnson said.  

“This was by far the most meaningful project I've ever been a part of,” Johnson said. “And to experience the power of the murals and how they are changing the town from this horrific thing to seeing these beautiful lives and faces is amazing.”  

Jackie Cazares: 'I love you to the moon and back'  

Artist: Kimmie Flores 

Jackie Cazares is surrounded by flowers and hummingbirds. Austin artist Kimmie Flores said she used some of Jackie’s favorite flowers, incorporating her favorite colors of sage green with pink. The leaves, she said, were added after Jackie's dad shared with her that he and Jackie were supposed to paint her room like a floral landscape with lots of leaves, but that never happened.  

Two hummingbirds – a mom and her baby – buzz around her face into the landscape. The Eiffel Tower was added later at a request from her dad, who said Jackie loved the iconic Paris landmark.  

The mural depicts Jackie in the same white dress she wore for her First Communion, and she is wearing the angel necklace that her grandmother had given her that day.

Quite often, Flores said, the family recalled how they would tell one another, “I love you to the moon and back.” In a thought bubble, she added that quote.  

“I wanted to make it look like she’s thinking it so when her family visits it, they can see her thinking it and it be a reflection of her and her family,” Flores said.  

This piece for Flores hit extremely close to home. Flores was born and raised in Uvalde and went to Robb Elementary. She grew up with some of Jackie’s family, and she said being part of this project was the best way to give the family and community, as well as herself, a chance to heal.  

“I just wanted to be part of the healing process as we mourn, grieve and move forward,” Flores said. “I really wanted to give back and do something with my art that could celebrate this person that was here.”

Makenna Elrod: 'Her animals had to be there' 

Artists: Silvy Ochoa and Courtney Jimenez 

Makenna Elrod loved nature and her animals. When San Antonio artist Silvy Ochoa learned she would paint Makenna, she knew “her animals had to be there with her.” Ochoa wanted to create a story that would let loved ones cherish memories of her and all the things that had made her Makenna.  

Several animals surround Makenna: the chicken she was raising is perched on top of her golden retriever, Bailey, accompanied by her horse, her steer, her pig named Pork Chops and a therapy miniature pony. The therapy pony is a new resident of the Elrod home, and it will be trained and taken to places to help people heal in honor of Makenna.  

Three butterflies, the seventh type of animal on the mural, were added by Ochoa to represent Makenna, her mom and her dad. Shown among the butterflies is a copy of a note Makenna wrote for her mom: “I love you so so so much. Makenna.”  

Makenna was one of four siblings. Behind her in a meadow are four trees, one for her and each of her siblings. She is also surrounded by her favorite flowers.  

On her shirt, Ochoa said, they transferred a rainbow – the same rainbow she painted on a river rock at her house – and let Makenna’s family paint it.  

“Her family gave life to her chest through a rainbow,” Ochoa said. “It’s where they said she was shot, so for them to be able to do that meant so much to them and me.”  

Ochoa also added the cross necklace around Makenna’s neck, the same ones her entire family wears today. She was strong with her faith, so the cross around her neck and the one on the hill behind her paid tribute to that part of her character.  

“This is a very close, traditional family, so, I wanted to create a traditional painting and something they feel related to,” Ochoa said. “And I wanted them to see her in a happy place that was simple and romantic and girly. A place where she would love to be.”  

Jose Flores: Baseball card for a 'little big helper'

Artist: Tino Ortega  

Jose Flores loved baseball, so El Paso artist Tino Ortega wanted to give the boy's portrait a baseball card vibe that drew inspiration from vintage trading cards.  

At the center, Jose stands proudly, smiling in his baseball uniform with a baseball bat slung over his shoulder. His name is displayed just below with his jersey number, 6, just like a trading card. But to show his love for the game, the perspective of the stars bouncing off his heart was not a coincidence, Ortega said.

“His dad and coach told me that he had a big heart for the game, and that is why it was so important to me that we made those stars the focal point with the perspective of them tapering into his heart,” Ortega said. “He loved baseball.”

Behind Jose's head, a large baseball emulates a halo, another ode to his love for baseball, and a symbol of passing and purity. On his jersey, Ortega altered the Uvalde Little League logo to say “Uvalde Little Big Helper,” another nod to his character at home. His dad said Jose was always a big help at home.  

Ortega also said it was extremely important to the piece that Jose be fully smiling. 

“His family shared with me that Jose had a smile that could lift up a room, and that is why recreating an image with him smiling fully was important,” Ortega said.  

Ortega said allowing Jose’s family to be part of the mural was also an important part of the process.

The family helped paint the stars extending to the bottom – inside one they wrote a message to him: “We love and miss you Little Big Brother." In the other his family signed their names.  

“I didn’t want his parents to think that was just another memorial,” Ortega said. “I wanted to make sure they had a positive experience, and that this was not just something they could come and visit, but also something they contributed to and helped create.”  

Eliahna Garcia: 'Live Like Ellie'  

Artist: Abel Ortiz Acosta Assistant artists: Cristina Sosa Noriega and Jaime Prado  

Eliahna Garcia was a loving and sweet girl who loved basketball, ramen noodles and Takis — and she would put Tapatio hot sauce on everything. Her favorite movie was Disney’s "Encanto" and her name is written on her mural in the same font as the title on the movie poster.  

Artist Abel Ortiz Acosta, who lives and teaches art in Uvalde, said he is close with the Garcia family and when he saw Ellie’s father the day after the shooting, he told Ortiz Acosta that “their deaths would not be in vain.”  

Acosta said he was going to paint Ellie and all the things that made her who she was.  

The weekend before she was killed, Ellie had won a basketball championship, so Acosta put Ellie on a basketball card with her all-star title proudly displayed below. He wanted to surround her with some of her favorite things, so he added a cup of ramen noodles, a Tapatio hot sauce bottle and a Takis logo around her. The winking tongue emoji was her favorite one, so he added that too.  

She also loved butterflies and flowers, which Acosta said he made sure surrounded her.  

"Live Like Ellie" trended on social media after the news of her death, showing videos of her dancing and singing on TikTok. Her dad wears a shirt with the same words, which Acosta added to the wall.  

Ellie was also a cheerleader and strong in her faith, both of which Acosta incorporated onto the wall. Her family helped paint her megaphone and several other elements, signing their name to the bottom.  

"All these murals tell the story of the children and their lives," Acosta Ortiz said. "You can see many of them liked sports, and movies, and TikTok, and so we all relate in some way."

Irma and Joe Garcia: Amor Eterno (Eternal love)  

Artist: Cease Martinez Assistant artist: Analisa Vela  

Irma and Joe Garcia had recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Irma, a Robb Elementary teacher, was killed in the school shooting on May 24, and two days later husband Joe died after having a heart attack. Some believe he died of a broken heart.  

Houston artist Cease Martinez, who is a sucker for love stories, said he was saddened by the news of the Robb Elementary shooting but was immediately drawn to Irma and Joe’s story. 

He said, he isn’t sure why. Maybe it was that his mom, like Irma, worked in a school district, and many of her friends and the people he grew up around were teachers. Maybe it was because after his brother died in 2010, many of his teachers, including his fourth grade teacher, attended the funeral and comforted his family. Or maybe it's because he has a niece in school that is about the same age as the young victims.  

But he knew one thing for sure, he told the American-Statesman: When he learned he would paint Irma, he wanted to figure out how to memorialize Irma and Joe together.  

On the wall near downtown Uvalde, Irma and Joe are painted together in a nicho, a display box used as a portable shrine to a loved one. The couple are surrounded by marigolds – the flower believed to guide the spirits to their altars with their vibrant color and pungent scent on Día de Los Muertos.  

The box displays their eternal love, or amor eterno, with 25 years of love added in a heart at the top.  

The quote on the wall: “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you,” was added as a small touch from their daughter, Martinez said. The lyric from Louis Armstong’s "What a Wonderful World" was their favorite song.  

Monarch butterflies were Irma’s favorite, so Martinez added those just for her.  

“I could sense the love they had for each other,” Martinez said. “I hope that what I painted captured that, because that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to capture that love that they shared for each other. And when people saw this mural that they didn’t see the tragedy but a love that couldn’t be without. To me that is everything.”  

Uziyah Garcia: Athlete and gamer 

Artist: Richard Samuels  Assistant artist: Gage Brown 

Uziyah Garcia had many interests. He was an athlete, with football his favorite sport. He loved to play video games, with Fortnite and Gorilla Tag being his favorites. He was also incredibly spiritual and strong with his faith.  

When Austin artist Richard Samuels was designing his mural, he wanted to capture Uziyah in a way that his family would remember him the best.  

“It was one of the most gratifying things I’ve had the pleasure to do as an artist,” Samuels said.  

To honor his gamer character, Samuels created a Nintendo Switch controller backdrop behind Uziyah. On the red controller, next to the button, Samuels also paid tribute to the boy's love for football with a play diagram. In the blue controller, Uziyah’s name is written in the Fortnite font.

Scaling the edge of this mural, his favorite character Spider-Man, which also happens to be Samuels’ favorite character, was added in late September to further honor Uziyah, along with a basketball just behind his shoulder.

At the center, Uziyah is wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt with Gorilla Tag emblazoned across it, another nod to his love for games. He is also sporting angel wings and a halo, which Samuels said was important to his character.

“While I was out there painting, his family showed up and they would sit around and share stories of Uzi,” Samuels said. “I am just so honored to have been picked to do this, and help the community fight back and make sure their kids names live on forever.”  

Amerie Garza: The bronze cross

Artist: Cristina Sosa Noriega Assistant artist: Alina De Leon 

A sunflower just above Amerie Jo Garza’s smiling face resembles a halo. Her mural also shows her in a purple dress with her hair slightly pulled back and framing her face, and a necklace she borrowed from her mom hanging around her neck. Amerie's confident pose comes from her mom’s favorite photo.  

But in the corner of her dress sits a small tribute to the young girl, a bronze cross, an award given to a Girl Scout who has shown extraordinary heroism or risked her life to save another's. 

Witnesses said Amerie tried to call 911 for help before she was killed on May 24. The bronze cross was awarded to her posthumously by the Girl Scouts of America, and Christina Noriega, the San Antonio artist behind the mural, said she wanted to honor her bravery and the little things that made Amerie special.  

The mural highlights all of Amerie’s favorite things: the color purple, her love for sunflowers and her dream to be an art teacher.  

And for her mom, family and friends, Noriega added Amerie’s handwriting to the center of the palette: “You console me. I will always love you. Amerie.”  

The words, Noriega said, were from a class project Amerie had done with Popsicle sticks.  

“Her mom got it tattooed on her arm, and it means so much to her family, so I wanted to recreate that and duplicate her handwriting" on the wall, she said.  

Her mom, little brother and stepfather later got to add a few little touches to the mural that further tell Amerie’s story. On her wrist is a bracelet engraved with the logo for BTS, her favorite band, with a heart and her initials AJG, which Noriega said Amerie’s mom helped paint.  

In the bottom corner of the mural are a few coloring book-style elements of Amerie’s favorite foods: Chick-fil-A nuggets and waffle fries and a Starbucks Vanilla Bean Latte, which her little brother and both parents helped paint.  

“It was so overwhelming, and I am so grateful we got to paint Amerie,” Noreiga said, adding that she was immediately drawn to Amerie’s story for a number of reasons. “So many of her family and friends came by while we were painting and shared stories and just thanked us. Once it was done, the reaction was just beautiful, and I appreciated knowing they liked it.” 

Xavier Lopez: 'Xavier loves Annabell'

Artist: Amado Castillo III 

Xavier Lopez and Annabell Rodriguez are right next to each other on a wall in Uvalde. The two would text “I love you” to each other every night before bed. Rodriguez’s mural highlights that text message chain.  

Lopez’s mom said it was important that Xavier’s mural also show how much he loved Annabell, so in the corner Austin artist Amado Castillo added a heart with wings reading “Xavier loves Annabell.” The heart sits at the top corner, near the phone text message Annabelle is receiving in her mural.  

But Xavier’s family also wanted to highlight a few other tidbits, including his first A-B honor roll award that he had received on May 24, and his fondness of dancing.  

The mural is split in his two favorite colors – blue and red.  

The blue half incorporates his A-B honor roll and music notes, which Castillo said was a tribute to Xavier's plan to learn to play the guitar. Xavier’s grandpa was going to teach him to play over the summer. A spotlight overlooking the blue section to a dance floor highlights his love for dancing.

On the red half, Castillo said he added Xavier’s favorite teddy bear character. Xavier had several T-shirts with this teddy bear illustration on them, so Castillo instead placed it on his shoulder illustrating it praying, a nod to his strong Christian faith.  

“Xavier’s story really resonated with me,” Castillo said. “He and I were similar in many ways, and when they called me to do his mural, I couldn’t say no.”  

Jayce Luevanos: His final cup 

Artist: Ruben Esquivel Assistant artist: Ismael Muniz 

Jayce Luveanos would make coffee for his family in the morning. So in his hands, Austin artist Ruben Esquivel wanted to capture that sentiment with a steaming cup of coffee. His final cup of coffee to them.  

He also used to write letters to them, signing them with “I love you.” So, at the top, Esquivel turned that letter into a paper plane in the sky, using Jayce’s exact handwriting, symbolizing his final letter to them. 

“These were things that were so important to his family,” Esquivel said.  “So, including those things were important to me. And it might seem odd that he is holding a cup of coffee, but this mural isn’t for anyone but his family. They know what it means.”  

Behind Jayce’s cup of coffee, Esquivel switched out the bulldog on his shirt for his favorite dinosaur ninja character. And peaking over his shoulder is SpongeBob SquarePants, one of his favorite shows and characters, with his hand out leading to where Jayce’s parents and siblings signed their names.  

Jayce’s face is surrounded by a blue and green halo, his favorite colors, with rays coming from the center, drawing people straight into his face.

"When I got a picture of Jayce and I saw his face, I was immediately overcome with emotion,” Esquivel said. “Once I got there, I was so nervous because I wanted the mural to look like him.”  

Also, he said, it was important to him that Jayce’s family be involved in as much of the mural as possible.

“This is as much theirs as it is mine,” Esquivel said. “And I wanted this to be a place where they can see him and feel him whenever they wanted, so having them be involved was really important to me.”

Tess Mata: A sheet of stickers 

Artist: Anat Ronen Assistant artist: Brittany Johnson 

Tess Mata loved softball. She was a huge fan of the Houston Astros and she loved second baseman José Altuve. He was one of her favorite players.

Houston artist Anat Ronen said she wanted to put all the things that show Tess' character and personality together in a way that shows that she was a child. That she said was a page of stickers of her and her favorite things.

“This was everything she liked behind her on a sheet of stickers,” Ronen said. “For me it has to tell a story. I had to put it together in a way that made sense to me, and overall of what we were talking about. So, I put that all together in a way that was playful and was her.”  

The sticker page is purple, her favorite color. Altuve, the Astros logo, and Orbit, the Astro mascot sit behind her. She played softball just like her older sister Faith, so a heart softball made the page along with a sticker of Tess in her softball uniform. Ronen said she added the iMessage bubble sticker about "I have softball" to further emulate her love for the game.  

The TikTok symbol tells the mischievous story of how she made several TikTok drafts on her mom's and aunt’s phones despite not having a phone of her own and not being allowed to have a TikTok account. Her family found the drafts later and watch them frequently. 

Her cat Oliver also made the page. He was very attached to her and still waits for her to this day.  

In her portrait, Tess is wearing a dress, which she didn’t do often. Her parents said she wasn’t a girly girl, but she liked this dress. The peace sign was her signature pose so Ronen made sure to include it. And around her wrist are bracelets that she made, with a heart charm her grandmother had given her.  

Ronen said Tess’s sister Faith wears them now.  

Maranda Mathis: Standing in a creek 

Artist: Luis Angulo  Assistant artist: Courtney Jimenez  

Maranda Mathis loved nature. Her favorite thing to do was walk through creeks and pick up river rocks and feathers. Her mother’s favorite photo is of Maranda standing in a creek near their Uvalde home holding a river rock.  

Austin artist Luis Angulo said in creating Maranda's mural he wanted to put her in her favorite place, doing her favorite thing, so he designed a mural that told that story. 

Maranda is seen standing in a creek filled with flowers — many of them pink because it was one of her favorite colors — lily pads and trees. Angulo said he used the photo of her in the creek and embellished the environment behind her, creating a place he believes she would’ve explored.  

In the water are koi fish swimming up the creek — 11 for each year of her life.  

But in her hand, Angulo paid a small tribute to Maranda and her mom. Instead of a river rock, she is holding an amethyst crystal, which is her mom’s birthstone and Maranda’s other favorite color.  

Angulo, who has been an artist in Austin for 15 years, said this mural was so personal for him. As someone who has mourned the death of his younger sister, he knew firsthand how sensitive this project was. He is also a father with a young daughter. But most of all, he and Maranda shared some characteristics. 

“Her mom told us that she was a shy kid who liked to be in nature and was creative,” Angulo said. “I’m like that too. She seemed like a fun, quirky and unique kid, and I was just drawn to her and her story.”  

Eva Mireles: Passion for life  

Artist: Sandra Gonzalez  Assistant artists: Malachy McKinney and Silvy Ochoa 

Eva Mireles, who was one of two teachers killed at Robb Elementary on May 24, was a mother, a wife and a friend. She loved hiking, CrossFit, flowers and diamonds.

On her mural, Mireles is surrounded by mountains, recreated from her daughter’s favorite photo of her. In the original photo, she is holding two American flags at the top of the peak, but San Antonio artist Sandra Gonzalez altered the flags to show her strength and courage while protecting her students by having the banners display “Always Strong” and her love for CrossFit.  

Below her are a variety of flowers using her favorite colors, lavender and yellow, incorporated with her daughter’s favorite colors — pink and purple — which Mireles’ daughter, husband and several of her friends helped paint. The mountain tops sparkle like diamonds, and they are filled with those same colors she loved. 

I wanted her to be surrounded by the things she loved,” Gonzalez said. “For me it represents a celebration of life, and it was nice to see how loved she was by the community. People stopped by and recognized the portrait, and they’d stop and talk with us and share stories about her. It was a very moving experience.”  

Gonzalez is also a teacher, and she said that is why she wanted to do Mireles’ portrait. As a teacher, she remembers feeling devastated about hearing the news of two teachers who died protecting their students.  

“I wanted to capture the spirit, essence, strength and love she had for family and her students,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to honor her because she died as a hero, and that really moved me. I felt like I needed to do it, and I am glad I was chosen.” 

Alithia Ramirez: 'She was an artist'

Artist: Juan Velazquez Assistant artist: Sarah Ayala  

Alithia Ramirez drew a lot. She drew pictures for her friends and family, and would make them into greeting cards for Father’s Day or just "thinking of you" cards. She used art to express her feelings and make people around her happy or feel better.

So, it was fitting that her mural do the same as part of the Healing Uvalde mural project, created as a way for Uvalde to heal through art, and to memorialize the children and teachers who died at Robb Elementary. 

Fort Worth muralist Juan Velazquez wanted her mural to be a celebration of Alithia's life, and he wanted people to look at it and smile, remembering all the things they loved about Alithia.  

“I knew this was going to be sad, and when you paint a mural like this they can look very grim,” he said. “I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be colorful and bright and just art.”  

But he couldn’t do that without honoring the artist and person she was.  

In a photo shared by her family, Alithia is wearing a tie-dye shirt. Velazquez said the colors are bright and happy, and so he recreated that in the backdrop behind her. On her shirt, Velazquez recreated three of Alithia’s drawings – a self-portrait, Batman and Pikachu.  

 “She was an artist,” Velazquez said. “And she was not around long enough to be able to paint a mural on her own, but I got to do it for her and put her artwork on a wall.”  

Behind Alithia, assistant artist Sarah Ayala painted a mandala, a symbol that can be used in various spiritual traditions. She said it resembles a halo, and the color purple is a symbol of royalty.  

“I wanted it to be respectful of Alithia and what she left behind,” Ayala said. “But that is also why I wanted the halo behind her, as a more positive mourning piece and a place that her family and friends can go to remember her positively.”  

Annabell Rodriguez: 'I love you'  

Artist: Joey Martinez  Assistant artist: Diego Diaz  

Every night before bed, Annabell Rodriguez and Xavier Lopez would text each other “I love you.” Their parents, amused by their young love, would giggle about it. Xavier later purchased and gave Annabell a necklace, which she wore to all his baseball games.  

Lubbock artist Joey Martinez said he tried to honor their love for each other, adding small tributes to her mural. On the top corner a phone text message reads “I love you” between the two young lovers. Around Annabell's neck is the necklace Xavier bought her.  

In the backdrop behind her smiling face, recreated from a favorite photo her family shared, there are 21 hearts to symbolize each of the Robb Elementary victims. Because she was on the honor roll, an A+ sits on the top right corner with the Uvalde Coyotes logo and the number 21 at the top. The cupcake, candle and the bracelets she’s wearing were directly from the original photo.  

Annabell wanted to be veterinarian, so a puppy was added to one of the heart shapes behind her. Her favorite color was baby blue, which Martinez said he tried to sprinkle throughout the piece, including a heart at the bottom right.  

But for Martinez, painting Annabell was more than just about honoring one of the victims. Annabell was a close family friend, and wanting to do everything he could to help the family heal and remember her, this was the best way Martinez felt he could do that.  

“I thought it was important that I do something special for their family,” Martinez said. “I’m extremely blessed to have been chosen to do something like this, and I tried to put in all the elements that symbolized who their daughter was.”  

Maite Rodriguez: A marine biologist  

Artist: Ana Hernandez  Assistant artist: Gabi Magaly 

Maite Rodriguez knew that as an adult she wanted to be a marine biologist. She loved the sea and anything to do with marine biology, so San Antonio-based artist Ana Hernandez wanted to echo that love in her mural.  

“One thing that got my attention for Maite is how she knew what she wanted to be,” Hernandez said. “She wanted to be a marine biologist, and her mom said that she always wanted to be that, even before she could pronounce it.” 

On the wall next to her friends, Maite is engulfed in a sea filled with coral reefs and wildlife. Hernandez said she made the coral behind Maite emulate angel wings. She added a sea turtle as a symbol of the turtle release her family did over the summer in her memory.  

A humpback whale, her favorite animal, is greeted by a tiny scuba diver meant to be her. In her handwriting, Hernandez added Matie’s message, “I want to be a marine biologist. Love, Maite.” 

She is sitting on top of a pile of books, the same books that sit in her bedroom at home. In the corner, on a small ofrenda, sit some of Maite’s favorite things, including her Whataburger order, a sewing machine and a sweater. Her favorite color was green, which Hernandez said she included in as much of the mural as possible.  

But Hernandez said telling Maite’s story also meant including her favorite green Converse Chuck Taylors. The shoes have a small black heart on the toe, just like the ones she was wearing at school on May 24. Her mother told Hernandez that Maite had drawn a heart on the brand-new shoes “because she loved them so much.”  

Maite’s mom painted the heart on the shoe on the mural herself. She and Maite’s brothers also helped Hernandez paint the fish and whale on the wall.  

“I tried and wanted to get everything her mom said made Maite her,” Hernandez said. “This is her.” 

Lexi Rubio: 'Timeless and really beautiful'

Artists: Carmen Rangel and Ruben Esquivel  

Wearing a St. Mary’s University T-shirt against a night sky, Lexi Rubio had big dreams of one day attending St. Mary’s – just as her mother did – and becoming a lawyer. As Austin artists Carmen Rangel and Ruben Esquivel designed the mural in Lexi’s honor, they worked to incorporate all those small things that tell her story.

Lexi loved butterflies and sunflowers, so skirting her portrait are five butterflies, one for her and each of her siblings, on a bed of sunflowers. Lexi and her siblings were very close. In the sky is a Libra constellation with her name inscribed in the same font. Lexi was a proud Libra.  

Other subtle elements are hidden within the mural to further tell Lexi’s story.  

A heart-shaped basketball and softball sit tucked in the sunflowers and butterflies. She loved both sports, and that is what she and her dad often bonded over. A pi symbol, in the same Libra font, hangs in the bottom corner. Her mom told Rangel that Lexi wanted to study math.   

“We went the route of trying to make a piece that is timeless and really beautiful,” Rangel said. “Lexi really loved sunflowers, and yellow, turquoise and blues were her favorite colors, so we tried to design something that would really represent her.”  

In addition, she said, she and Esquivel wanted to be able to create a place where her family and friends could come and laugh, cry and remember who Lexi was.  

“Public art can be part of the healing process,” Rangel said. “It has impact and can help create change, and serve as a reminder to the community, and everyone, to never forget their faces.”  

Layla Salazar: 'Sweet Child O’ Mine'  

Artist: Alvaro Zermeño 

Every day on the way to school, Layla Salazar and her dad would sing along to the Guns N’ Roses 1987 hit "Sweet Child O’ Mine," and after hearing that story from her father, Austin artist Alvaro Zermeño said he knew he had to find a way to include it.  

But one of Layla's greatest stories was that she was a track runner. And she was fast.  

At the center of the wall, Zermeño recreated a still from a video of Layla racing. The length of the wall allowed him to extend the track to the edge. Layla’s mom also ran track and adding that was an important part of their story.  

“Her dad told me that she was one of the faster kids in her class, and so I knew that I had to get that in there,” Zermeño said. “She was fast, and, if you look at the video of her on the track, you almost feel bad for the other kids because she would leave them in the dust.”  

Layla’s smiling face is stamped in between the Chicago skyline, where the family was from, and between the "Sweet Child O’ Mine" lyric. Her name matches the same font overlaying the skyline and surrounded by sunflowers, which she loved.  

Zermeño said her favorite colors were blue, yellow and turquoise, which he added throughout the piece.  

“Her family told me she was animated and energetic, and so I tried to capture that with everything kind of moving around her and in motion,” he said.

Jailah Silguero: Her favorite colors with a Capri Sun 

Artist: Tino Ortega 

Jailah Silguero liked the colors pink and blue. From the lei around Jailah's neck to the pink flower halo behind her head, El Paso artist Tino Ortega said he tried to incorporate as many of her favorite things as he could with the colors she loved.

She was also a lover of unicorns and was a fan of TikTok, so both symbols are on the wall with her, incorporating the blue and pink color scheme. But a few small details, he said, serve as a gentle reminder of who she was to her family and friends.  

The portrait of her is recreated from a photo provided by her family, right down to the bracelet on her wrist. Ortega said Jailah’s mom wears that bracelet now. But in Jailah's hand, he added a Capri Sun juice pouch, something he said her family requested. Capri Sun is life.  

While creating the piece, Ortega said, it was clear that Jailah’s family was very close and involved in her life, and so he used that as an opportunity to let them be part of the mural. Small pieces of the mural he taped off just for them, including adding the stars to the TikTok logo and some of the color around the mural. All five of them signed the mural just above Ortega’s signature.  

“I went in there and outlined the design, but to have them involved in the process was important to me, especially after I saw they were involved in her life, and I wanted to continue that,” Ortega said. "I wanted them to sign it. So, along with the painting they did, they got their handwriting in there as well.”  

In the time that her family wasn’t helping paint, he said they hung around the site every day, bringing coolers filled with water and snacks for him and them to share.  

“I am so glad they got to be part of the process and got to see the mural unfold the way they did,” Ortega said.  

Eliahna Torres: 'My forever #4'

Artist: Filiberto Mendieta Assistant artist: Nikki Diaz  

On the shoulder of Eliahna Torres’s jersey is the All-Star team title she was supposed to learn about that weekend after the shooting. Torres was an avid softball player and was excited to find out if she had made the team, but that never happened.  

Austin artist Filiberto Mendieta said he knew he had to acknowledge that and her love for softball in the design. On the wall, Eliahna is standing proudly smiling in her dark green Uvalde softball uniform with a bat slung over her shoulder. Her jersey number was 4.  

She is wearing a necklace with a pendant that reads, “Daddy’s girl,” a gift from her father. Around her wrist is a bracelet with a llama charm. She loved llamas.  

An inscription next to her portrait “my forever #4” was added at the request of her mother, who told Mendieta that is how she will always remember Eliahna. A pink TikTok logo signs off with her name.  

Butterflies and sunflowers were her favorites. Mendieta said the butterflies were done in her favorite colors. She and her cat Dexter were inseparable so he is lying next to her with a very cat-like wince.  

For Mendieta, working on Eliahna’s mural was personal. A few of his friends live in Uvalde and had children at Robb Elementary that day. One of his friends is a cousin of Eliahna's, and he wanted to do something for them to help them heal. That was painting Eliahna’s mural.  

“I wanted to paint her naturally and in her element,” Mendieta said. “It’s a little nerve-racking at first, because you want to do a good job. But her family hung out while I was painting and told me stories about her, and then it started to come together and it felt right.”  

Rojelio Torres: 'Life of the party'

Artists: Jesse de Leon and Floyd Mendoza 

Rojelio Torres was the life of the party. Anytime there was a family gathering, Rojelio was often out dancing with his cousins and having a good time. He was also very invested in Pokémon and loved playing football.  

Houston artist Jesse de Leon said in imagining Rojelio’s mural he wanted to recreate an image of fun, where you could imagine playing with and trading Pokémon and football cards.

The imagery looks like a traditional Pokémon card. Rojelio’s name is written in the Pokémon font. He is surrounded by his favorite characters, including Galarian Articuno, a psychic and flying-type Pokémon. De Leon said Rojelio’s family shared that the boy was very giving and often would give away cards and other things. A little girl, whom he had a crush on, liked a poster he had of Galarian Articuno, so he gave it to her.  

“That was probably the most important character on there,” de Leon said. “Because it gives meaning to his character as a giving person, and that was important for his family.”  

Trading cards also usually feature a name, special powers and other info about them. de Leon recreated that in a football card – drawing the football player in his favorite green color – adding his birthday at the top with his nickname, Rojer, and "life of the party" across the bottom, his special power.  

Assistant artist Floyd Mendoza said he dedicated most of his time to Rojelio’s portrait paying special attention to the features on his face with blending and shading. Mendoza and de Leon said they knew they nailed it when one of his cousins pulled up at yelled, “Oh my god, it looks just like him.”  

The red sweater and shirt he is wearing were Rojelio’s favorite things to wear, and de Leon even kept "difference maker" emblazoned on it, hoping to send a larger message about this project and art.  

“Hopefully when people go and read that, they think, 'Wow these things do make a difference,'” de Leon said. “My job is to make a difference in someone’s life and help them heal throughout art, which was the whole reason for this project. But we also want to create a place that is fun, where they can remember their loved one and remind them that their faces will never be forgotten.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Color del dolor: 21 Uvalde murals of Robb Elementary victims use paint to heal pain


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