A mural dedicated to fatal stabbing victim Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz graces a wall in the Belmont section of the Bronx, unveiled Sunday by Washington, D.C.-born artist Chris Pyrate.
Fifteen-year-old Guzman-Feliz, depicted in the mural wearing a New York Yankees jersey with wings coming out from his sides and a halo hovering over his head, was killed in a gang-related attack on June 20 in a case of mistaken identity. Dragged out of a bodega one block away from his home, he was struck in the neck with machetes. Eight men, some believed to be members of the Dominican gang Trinitarios, have been arrested in the fatal stabbing.
Elected city officials and Bronx-born celebrity rappers such as Cardi B have rallied around #JusticeforJunior, a social media campaign created to garner support for the slain teenager. While some protested his death in rallies or by creating a GoFundMe page to raise money for his family, Pyrate, a travelling artist, decided to immortalize Guzman-Feliz in a mural.
“I didn’t want this easily walked past or forgettable. I wanted to put a smile on people’s faces,” Pyrate said of the work of art via telephone on Monday, adding how the wings and the halo were designed to conceptualize the teenager in a manner that could live on, painted on the wall and in people’s hearts, for a long time.
Pyrate, who had been staying in the Bronx while finishing a mural in Brooklyn, was approached by a community activist to pay homage to Guzman-Feliz through his art. Worried about honoring a Bronx teen when he himself wasn’t from the area, Pyrate said he was greatly inspired by Guzman-Feliz’s friends, who “hung out” by the mural and offered their help and insight into the teen.
To commemorate the memorial set up in the community for “Junior,” Pyrate painted 48 candles at the base of the mural, he said. The number serendipitously coincided with the nearby police precinct, he added. When Guzman-Felix’s friends suggested he involve the community in the mural somehow, Pyrate asked the teen’s friends and family to “light the candles” with their thumbprints, he said.
“[Guzman-Feliz’s] friends are a big part of the mural itself — from the way he is smiling to the wings to the candles, a lot of that came from his friends,” Pyrate said.
“It was all because of the inspiration around me,” he added.
Another mural commemorating Guzman-Feliz’s life adorns the wall on East 184th Street, showing “Junior” in a Yankees jersey and a gold chain, flanked by “Lesandro” on the right side and “Feliz” on the left, with the word “Junior” drawn in the form of a halo over his head. The mural also shows the birth and death dates of the teenager.
Other efforts to honor Guzman-Feliz’s memory come from the city’s police institutions. He was an aspiring detective as a member of the NYPD’s Explorers program, and the New York City Police Foundation and the NYPD established a scholarship program in his name. The Lesandro Guzman-Feliz Memorial College Fund will award two $5,000 scholarships to those involved with the NYPD Explorer Summer Academy.
As for the investigation into his death, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea has vowed to leave “no stone unturned.”