My own daughter Paloma was born only 4 days before Amerie and is also a girl scout, an artist, and a sweet girl who is a friend to everyone. The similarities gutted me in a way that words cannot explain. Painting Amerie and bringing some healing to her family also helped heal my own grief over the unfathomable loss.  

Cristina Noriega

Cristina Noriega’s Artist Statement

Amerie Jo Garza was described by friends and family as sweet, sassy the kid who always lit up a room. Her favorite band was BTS, and she loved the color lavender. She stood up for those who were bullied and was adored by her family and community. And in her last moments she died a hero, calling 9-1-1 when a shooter entered her classroom at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. For that final brave act she was awarded a Bronze Cross, the highest honor “For Valor” that can be bestowed on a Girl Scout. In the mural she wears the medal on her lavender dress, and a silver bracelet is inscribed "BTS ? AJG".  The words on the palette are in her handwriting, and match the tattoo her mother Kimberly had inscribed on her arm in late June.  

The concept for the mural came very naturally- Her family provided a lot of information, and even chose the exact photo they wanted transformed into her portrait. I also read many articles about Amerie and watched interview with her mother, stepfather, biological father and numerous other family members.   

With murals you don't always get a perfect wall, and it's your job as an artist to turn the challenges into opportunities. That's why I chose to incorporate the broken large window on the wall into the hole part of the oversized palette. Amerie was an artist at heart, always with a ball of clay in her hands or a paintbrush or marker in her left hand.  The background is a sunflower pattern, her favorite flower. It's meant to look like Mexican oilcloth, thus incorporating a culturally-relevant detail into the design. I highlighted the sunflowers with gold paint that shines in the sun, adding extra gold to the petals that form a halo around her head. The placement of the halo petals, palette and other elements were all very intentional.  All these details came together to capture her spirit.  

Amerie's family wanted to participate in the mural, so I created a coloring-book style table with her favorite foods in the bottom right corner- a Starbucks Vanilla Bean Latte and Chik-fil-A 8 piece nuggets with fries. on August 18, her mom, 4-year-old brother, stepdad, grandparents, aunt and numerous cousins gathered to paint the color, which you see on the bottom right side. The coloring is all their work, I only did the outlines. Leaving it exactly as they painted it makes the project even more meaningful and authentic.  Her mother Kimberly was so gracious, and on the day she came to paint she gifted me with bracelets for me and my two daughters, a school photo of Amerie, and 2 memorial buttons. These items are precious to me and sit on my dresser next to pictures of my own children.