Neto's Tucson: 2 faces on west-side Tucson wall are quiet, tragic reminders

2013-07-14T00:00:00Z Neto's Tucson: 2 faces on west-side Tucson wall are quiet, tragic remindersErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Their piercing eyes first grab your attention. Hers radiate innocence. His are filled with sorrow.

The images of Brisenia Flores and José Antonio Elena Rodríguez are reminders they remain present, although they are dead.

Rodriguez was a Nogales, Sonora, teenager shot dead by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in October 2012 during an incident in which some Mexican youths threw rocks at agents who had responded to a drug-smuggling call.

Flores was the 9-year-old girl who was killed, along with her 29-year-old father, Raúl Junior Flores, by a white supremacist and two others when the trio invaded the Flores' Arivaca home in an attempted drug rip-off in May 2009.

The images appeared about a month ago on a west-side corner. They appear to have been painted on a material placed on the red brick walls of an abandoned service station.

In both images the names of the dead are seen, as well as four letters, presumably the artists' initials.

On most afternoons a Sonoran dog stand - "Los Cuñados," Spanish for brothers-in-law - occupies the corner. The two vendors, who are brothers-in-law, said they have no idea who placed the two images.

"We came to work on a Tuesday, and there they were," said David Antonio Rosiles González.

He and Francisco Javier Valle Correa said they welcome the images. They said Rodriguez's stoic stare and Brisenia's sweet smile raise awareness of the two deaths. When customers stop to order their Sonoran dogs with all the trimmings, they ask about the faces and the cuñados pass on the oral histories.

"It is a good thing they are there," said Valle.

Brisenia and José Antonio were victims of violence connected to our country's failed drug and border policies. Their deaths are deemed collateral damage, and public indifference smothers outrage.

In Rodriguez's case, a Border Patrol agent fired through the opening of the border barrier into Mexico, striking the 16-year-old boy at least eight times, seven in his back.

Brisenia, on the other hand, was in her home with her father and mother when border vigilante Shawna Forde, triggerman Jason Bush, and Albert Gaxiola, an Arivaca drug dealer, raided the Flores home believing Brisenia's father had drugs in the house. They found none, but left two people dead alongside a wounded mother.

In 2011, separate juries convicted Forde and Bush, who each received death sentences. A third jury found Gaxiola guilty of first-degree murder. He was issued two life sentences, one without the possibility of release.

Rodriguez's family is still waiting for an investigation into his death.

Tucson has many memorials for the dead, from statues of soldiers in long-ago wars to candles, crosses and ghosts bikes on city streets. But the images of eternal youth are memorials of a different kind: to useless public policies that make drugs illegal and lucrative, inviting death.

The faces, staring straight out, are silent protests from the grave.

"It is about as gentle and as radical a protest there is," said John Heid, a Menlo Park resident who lives a few blocks from the site.

Within days after Heid spied the images, he left a single candle under the muted faces. A Quaker who lives at Casa Mariposa, an immigrant shelter, Heid said the images reverberated within him, especially Rodriguez's glaring eyes.

"He is not resting. He is watching. He's waiting," Heid said. "He's expecting justice."

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at

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