A mural of a bright purple butterfly rising above a mountain range into a yellow and blue sky underneath the Interstate 25 and Broadway interchange pops out amid gray concrete slabs. While the new art may look straightforward enough to drivers zooming past it on Broadway, there is more to the artwork than initially meets the eye. Look carefully at the butterfly and you'll notice there are three names written upon the creature's body: Nikki, Rome and Cowboy.
The three nicknames belong to Nicole Boston, Jerome Coronado and Christopher Zamudio, respectively — the victims in a triple homicide that occurred across the street from the mural back in early August ("Close to Home," September 10). The victims had all been experiencing homelessness when they were fatally shot (police have since named a suspect) and, perhaps due to their homelessness, public attention on the murders waned quickly. Yet as we noted in our cover story, “the [victims] happened to be experiencing homelessness, but they were first and foremost people. They were people with histories, individual triumphs, failures, hopes and dreams.”
On Saturday, November 10, those histories, triumphs, failures and dreams were honored during a ceremony unveiling the new mural. Dozens of attendees, including family members of the deceased, gathered underneath the freeway underpass to remember “Nikki,” “Rome” and “Cowboy.”
Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech spearheaded the mural. She secured funding through a Denver Arts and Venues grant and collaborated with the victims' families, the Denver Arts and Skills Center and The Gathering Place (a drop-in center for women, children and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness) to make it a reality.
“This is a remembrance and a testimony to the healing power of art,” Kniech said, standing in front of the mural. “This mural represents that when we connect with each other, we can grow our capacity to heal.”
The councilwoman mentioned that meetings between the family members of Boston and Coronado and artists to discuss the mural's design was an emotional, healing process in itself. The city tried its best to locate family members of Zamudio but could not find any. “We are the only remembrance he will have, and so it's important that we're here for him, too,” Kniech noted.
Connie Jones, Boston's mother, was in attendance and mentioned that Boston's three young children had visited the mural while it was being painted and had added their thumbprints on the butterfly.
“I thought they would all be forgotten after what happened to them,” she said of her daughter, Coronado and Zamudio. “I never imagined this. It's amazing.”
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One of the artists who designed the mural, 27-year-old Kylee Wellons, spoke at Saturday's ceremony. Wellons described the mural as an important tool to fight stigmas about the homeless and said that the experience of working on the project was deeply moving for her, especially once she learned more about the victims and met with their family members.
“[Meeting them] changed the experience for me,” she said. “To see what this was and who it was for was really powerful.”
One of Coronado's sisters, Jennifer, told attendees that, though her family is brokenhearted over Coronado's death, his memory lives on. She described her brother as an artist, dancer and a comedian. “He was the funniest person you'll ever know — he was the life of family gatherings,” she said.
After thanking everyone who made the mural possible, Jennifer added, “Brother, I know you're listening. Please know that we love and miss you so much.”