10 YEARS: ‘Metamorphosis’ chalk art festival highlights a decade remembering Aurora theater shooting victims

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AURORA | The Aurora Municipal Center’s Water-wise Reflection Garden was full of color on Saturday as the 7/20 Memorial Foundation held its annual beer and chalk art festival in remembrance of the Aurora theater shooting victims.

The event was especially poignant as it marked 10 years since the attack claimed the lives of 12 people and injured dozens of others. The Foundation chose the theme “Metamorphosis” for this year’s events, as a reflection of the ways the city has changed over the ensuing decade.

Many chalk artists chose to incorporate that theme into their works, which lined the paths along the garden housing the “Ascentiate” memorial statue.

Chalk artist Kyle Banister spent the day embellishing the phrase “rebirth” onto the pavement, framed by a lotus flower and a monarch butterfly. Lisa Childress, mother of shooting victim Jesse Childress, helped him with the design.

Banister’s daughter was in Jesse’s unit at Buckley Air Force Base, and since the shooting the two families have become close.

“We’ve kind of become family over the years,” Banister said.

The lotus flower symbolizes resurrection, wisdom and renewal. The butterfly is special for Lisa, who said she sees one every summer that she comes back to Aurora from her home in California. To her, it’s a symbol of her son.

The first year after the attack, she couldn’t bring herself to attend the vigil, the family just stayed in Jesse’s house in Thornton, which they now own. Since then, she’s attended each vigil and has slowly been able to speak more publicly about her son. She holds his Air Force dog tags in her pocket every time she does an interview. 

“It’s therapeutic to be involved, since we’re here with Jesse in the garden,” she said of the chalk art festival.

Artist Nathan Reker considered drawing a butterfly as well, but ultimately went with a phoenix rising from the ashes as his symbol of metamorphosis. 

“I have a thing about rising above,” he said.

Reker has lived almost his entire life in Aurora but on the day of the shooting he was on a honeymoon in Mexico with his wife, whose birthday is July 20. The newlyweds watched the news on TV from their hotel room. In a way, the shooting still seems like it happened yesterday.

“It’s something I’ll always remember,” he said.

The chalk art will remain in the garden until the rain washes it away.

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