After wrapping up the first year of her master of fine arts program at Yale, Maria de los Angeles came home for the summer to a community still grappling with the fatal deputy-involved shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
The kids who knew Lopez or went to school with the teen have spent the past nine months voicing their anger and grief over the Oct. 22 shooting by sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who reportedly mistook a BB gun Lopez was carrying for an assault rifle it was designed to resemble. De los Angeles said many of the kids lack other outlets to cope with their friend’s death.
“They’re heartbroken and need help,” she said.
She sprung into action, launching within weeks of her arrival a free children’s art program at Cook Middle School, where she and Lopez had been students. She also rallied support from local businesses and community leaders, who have been donating to the project, One City Arts, aimed at helping kids with the healing process, De los Angeles said.
“Through the arts, they can express themselves and deal with emotions,” the 25-year-old artist said.
On a recent morning, she instructed the dozens of students packed in the classroom to draw from memory their neighborhood. Luis Diaz, who said he was friends with Lopez since both were 1 year old, drew a picture of a street and sidewalk. The 13-year-old drew the street where Lopez was killed, De los Angeles pointed out.
“They’re telling us what they feel,” she said. “(But) they’re not talking about it. They’re drawing it.”
She’s also working with the kids on painting a mural to memorialize Lopez. She said the kids hope to display at the site where Lopez was shot, which county officials hope to turn it into a park.
“It takes our minds off things,” Lisbet Mendoza, a 16 year-old girl who has been active in the protests, said about the art program.
After the Lopez shooting, various groups held community forums to allow residents to air their concerns and grief. Mental-health professionals came into the schools to meet with children.