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Andy Lopez mural goes up in Roseland

Three miles from where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy nearly a year ago, a mural of the boy went up.

Santa Rosa artist Mario Uribe installed the temporary 8-foot-by-16-foot mural Friday along the side of a vacant gas station at West Avenue and Sebastopol Road in the heart of Roseland. It’s one of the busiest intersections in the southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood, which was shaken by the fatal Oct. 22 shooting by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who reportedly mistook the airsoft BB gun Lopez was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle that it was designed to resemble.

The shooting had sparked protests and exposed the community’s deep mistrust in law enforcement - a feeling amplified by Gelhaus’ return to patrol the streets last month after he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the District Attorney’s Office.

“The community needs to have something there,” Uribe said about the mural. “All that neighborhood is frustrated.”

It took a couple of hours for Uribe and his assistant, Daniel Doughty, to build a frame to mount the mural onto the old building.

“It’s a good thing they’re doing,” said Deborah Dunn, who lived in Roseland for 15 years but recently moved to north Santa Rosa.

She was pulling into the parking lot of the nearby Dollar Tree when she saw the artist mounting the mural. She immediately recognized the image of Lopez. Although it’s painful to see, she said, the mural is a good way to memorialize the teen.

“But what about the other kids that have been shot?” she added. She said she’d like see murals of other children who have been killed by police or gun violence.

Ann Ferrari said the mural serves as a reminder of the danger of “plastic guns that look like real ones,” while giving the community an opportunity to heal.

“They need it over here,” said Ferrari, who lives in south Santa Rosa.

Uribe said the mural, titled “Mindfulness,” is not meant to point fingers but rather to promote healing and reflection on how a tragic incident like the one in October occurred and how another can be avoided.

The mural is made up of a series of the same four images of Lopez, with each more faded than the one to its left. The first image depicts the teen wearing his characteristic black beanie and a wide smile. However, by the fourth image, his smile is faded out.

“It makes you think about what happened - not in a confrontational way,” Uribe said about the mural, which he put together with the help of local artist Mary Vaughan and three young apprentices from Artstart, a nonprofit educational art program he oversees.

“Regardless who is at fault,” he added, “it seemed to be a waste of a young life.”

The project was funded by the Santa Rosa nonprofit Anorcase Foundation, Uribe said.

He said the mural will stay up for at least a couple of months at the gas station, which he picked because of its visibility. Sonoma County officials plan to demolish the old building to eventually make way for the proposed Roseland Village neighborhood center.

“It could come down as soon as two months from now. Or it could come down much later,” John Haig, the county’s capital programs manager, said, adding that workers have been tapping into the power source at the gas station as they do remediation work on the site.

The mural was painted onto four separate plywood panels before it was attached to the gas station. Uribe said it can easily be dismantled and moved elsewhere in the community.

The artist has been doing work in Roseland for years. Uribe said he had felt he needed to do something for the neighborhood that was “healing in nature” when he came up with the idea for the mural last spring.

Although one person complained the mural focused too much on death, Uribe said the project received support from most of the members of the community-engagement and healing subcommittee of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force. The mural later went before county supervisors, who approved the project last month.

“It’s a great way to pay homage to the memory of Andy Lopez, and it’s a reminder of the work ahead of us,” said Francisco Vázquez, a task force member who sits on the healing subcommittee.

“I hope they walk away with a reflection of how fragile life is,” he added. “If they aren’t vigilant in dialoguing with law enforcement, these things will continue to happen.”

He said some residents likely won’t understand the mural and may feel it is “fanning the flames.” Some communities deal with death differently and many Latinos celebrate their late relatives through pictures, paintings and other memorials, explained Vázquez, a Sonoma State University history professor who is hoping to establish a mural program in Roseland that would promote the neighborhood’s people and history and instill pride in the community.

County Supervisor Efren Carrillo said each week he visits the site where Lopez was killed. He said it’s obvious children in the neighborhood have not forgotten Lopez. Art is a good vehicle for the kids to express their grief, he said.

“You continue to see photos and messages,” said Carrillo, adding that the mural “will serve as a reminder for us that we’re still grieving something that’s very tragic.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or ?eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com.

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