White lettering on a mural memorializing murder victim Isabella Joy Thallas, known as Bella, now declares the tiny park opposite the painting “Bella Joy Gardens.”
Muralist Thomas Evans, known as Detour, said lettering isn’t his forte. He relied on fellow artists Hillery Powers and Carmen Richardson to add the words to his giant portrait of Bella in time for a ceremony that her family held Friday at the park at 17th and Park avenues.
“It was a community artist project,” Evans said as he watched relatives and friends of Thallas pose for photographs in front of the mural on Friday. Evans also painted an abstract in rainbow colors on a basketball court at the park, part of a sprucing-up that the Thallas family was marking with Friday’s musical, prayerful and tearful gathering.
City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who also attended the ceremony, said she would encourage the family to pursue a formal renaming of the park, which is among about 20 grassy triangles along Park Avenue that are simply known as the Park Avenue Parks. Under city regulations, three years must pass after a person’s death before his or her name can be considered for a park’s name. CdeBaca hopes that can be sped up for Bella. In the meantime, Scott Gilmore, the city’s deputy parks and recreation manager, has told the family to go ahead and call it “Bella’s garden.”
Evans had secured permission to paint on the east wall of the building where Leon gallery is located and had been planning to paint a tribute to one of his teachers. He changed the mural’s subject after the June 10 murder of Thallas, who was shot along with her boyfriend as they walked their dog in the Ballpark section of Five Points. Evans was a longtime friend of Thallas’s boyfriend, Darian Simon, who was injured in the shooting.
Thallas’s mother first saw the mural while Evans was still working on it with fellow artist Hiero Veiga just before her daughter’s June 17 funeral. Ana Thallas began then to envision the park the mural overlooks as a place she could visit to remember her daughter, and where others mourning their own losses might find healing. Ana contacted CdeBaca, who put her in touch with Gilmore.
“I just wanted to make something positive,” Ana said. “Positive things can come out of tragic things.”
On Friday, her father, Chuck Hernandez, stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders as Ana, struggling to hold back tears, thanked parks department workers who quickly transformed what had been a neglected park. Trees were trimmed, beds prepared for flowers and a concrete pad where a long-vanished picnic table had sat was turned into the basketball court. Gilmore arranged for a bench dedicated to Bella to be placed in front of the mural. A plaque on the bench includes a message to Bella from her family: “We love you to the moon and back.”
A deep pink ribbon decorated with paper butterflies was strung across the bench on Friday. Ana said a butterfly flew to her chest after alighting on her daughter’s hand during the funeral.
“Every time you see a butterfly, it’s my Isabella,” said Ana, who wore a butterfly-shaped pendant on a chain around her neck.
During the ceremony, Ana thanked the first responders who “helped my daughter when I could not.” Dozens of police officers, firefighters and paramedics attended Friday’s ceremony along with about 100 other people. Among the law enforcement officers were Detective Bruce Gibbs, who is in charge of the case in which a man has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and other crimes including firing an illegal high-capacity weapon.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen also attended Friday’s ceremony.
“This dedication, this mural, is something that can help this city,” Pazen said.