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As people around the nation are grappling with the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Florida, one artist’s work is as heartbreaking as is it is healing.
Pia Guerra opened up about the moment she knew she had to memorialize at least one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims in her unique way.
“It’s not often that an image pops in your brain and you feel a lump in your throat,” Guerra told The Washington Post. “I need to get this down before time dilutes it,” she recalled thinking in the early morning as she got the idea to create a sketch in honor of fallen hero Aaron Feis.
It is with Great sadness that our Football Family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis. He was our Assistant Football Coach and security guard. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories pic.twitter.com/O181FvuHl3— MS Douglas Football (@MSDEagles) February 15, 2018
When the shooting started last Wednesday, Feis — a school security guard as well as assistant football coach — reportedly stepped between the shooter and students, taking bullets in the act. He was reportedly hospitalized before dying from his wounds.
In Guerra's sketch, titled “Hero’s Welcome," a girl is taking Feis’ hand to lead him back to a crowd of people as she says, “Come on Mister Feis! So many of us want to meet you!”
Although she considers herself an atheist and said the image isn’t meant to represent “angels and heaven,” Guerra, 46, wanted to capture the idea that “all these brave, beautiful, vibrant people should still be with us.”
That all these brave, beautiful, vibrant people should still be with us.— Pia Guerra (@PiaGuerra) February 16, 2018
“Wherever all these wonderful people are, they’re not here,” she told the Post. Guerra reportedly wanted to visually portray the sheer number of people lost in mass school shootings, while also leaving the image open for people to find their own meanings.
“This is who they are. This is all that we lost,” she said, adding, “When you leave something open enough to interpretation, more people can find something in it.”
I saw this earlier, and I sat in front of my students and cried. And then I showed it to them, and they cried, too. Very powerful. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.— Belinda Persisted (@crossofsnow) February 17, 2018
Haunting. Powerful. Tragic. Yet also representative of the innocence lost. Thank you for sharing this.— Wendy R. (@WendyCR1872) February 21, 2018
Although most people have been touched, Guerra’s tribute has drawn some ire from people who think she did not well-represent the various races of all those who died in mass shootings, rather than just white people.
“That was a direct result of rushing and not paying more attention to the makeup of the crowd, and maybe making a point about how these things always seem to happen in white suburbia and totally mucking it up,” Guerra said, promising to “do better.”
In the past, Guerra has used her cartoons to vent, but this one was especially “emotional.” She plans on creating more of these works relating to the shooting, and encourages more people to remain involved in its aftermath.
“It’s more emotional, it’s more personal … a gut reaction,” she said. “This is a whole other level.”
She added: “We should be engaged in this. We should use our voices … whatever it is we have to amplify what’s important to us.”
Feis was one of three faculty members and 14 students killed on Valentine’s Day when authorities said former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire on his high school with an AR-15. He was arrested following the shooting and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He is currently being held without bond.
(H/T Indy 100)