More than three months after 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed inside their fourth grade classrooms at Robb Elementary School, one young victim's lifelong dream is coming true.
Alithia Haven Ramirez, 10, dreamed of one day traveling to Paris to study art and, eventually, seeing her own work displayed in French museums and highlighted in art instillations.
"When she started pre-K, I noticed that she was starting to draw. I would give her coloring books, then eventually just paper and colored pencils," Jessica Hernandez, Alithia's mom, told TODAY Parents. "She was always drawing. Every time I would tell her, 'Oh, that's so cute. Keep up the good work!' I just encouraged her, and ever since then she never stopped drawing. It was her passion ever since she was 4 years old."
Hernandez, 30, said that Alithia — who loved the color purple, eating pizza and playing with her two younger siblings — would create her own unique characters, often mirrored after Nintendo players or anime cartoons.
"She made Pizza Girl, whose outfit was made out of pizza," Hernandez explained. "She made Super Colorado-Girl, with mountains as her outfit. She also made characters with big eyes. She said that she wanted to make a comic book based off of her own characters — she was really proud of them. Really proud of them."
She told me she wanted to go to Paris because that’s where famous artists are known to go. It was the first thing she said — she didn’t hesitate.
jessica hernandez, ALITHIA'S MOM
A little over two months before the end of her fourth grade year, Alithia told her mom that she wanted to go to school to be an artist.
"We were talking about her going into the fifth grade and having more opportunities," the mom of three recalled. "She told me she wanted to go to Paris because that's where famous artists are known to go. It was the first thing she said — she didn't hesitate. She just knew that's where she wanted to go, and she wanted me to go there with her and support her."
Alithia didn't get a chance to travel to Paris with her mom, attend art school or see her paintings displayed in a museum. She was shot and killed inside her classroom in Uvalde, Texas three days before the last day of school.
During a White House Press Conference on June 7, actor and Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey described Alithia's dream of becoming an artist while holding up examples of her artwork. Tracy Saucier, executive director of the Beeville Art Museum (BAM) in Texas, was watching, and decided right then and there to help Alithia's dream become a reality.
I wanted to be by her side, and knowing that she's not here? It breaks my heart.
jessica hernandez, ALITHIA'S MOM
"In such a time of tragedy and loss, I realized that this was something I could make happen," Saucier said. On Saturday, Sept. 17, BAM kicked off a month-long exhibition featuring 48 pieces of art created by Alithia.
"Pizza-Girl" and "Super Colorado-Girl" are among them.
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"Seeing her art there — it made me happy but it also made me sad," said Alithia's mom, who received a private tour of the exhibit a day before it opened to the public. "I wanted to see her — how happy she would be when people see her art. I wanted to be by her side, and knowing that she's not here to see it? It breaks my heart. I know she would have been so happy to see that — that's what she wanted. She wanted people to see her art and to see how talented she was."
Hernandez says she could envision her daughter jumping up and down and "probably even crying" if she had been able to see the exhibition. Alithia's one-of-a-kind drawings and paintings hang in BAM's Gallery N, a multi-purpose exhibition gallery that also hosts education programs. Every year, 5,000 students attend art programs, workshops and camps there, all for free.
"Alithia would have been speechless," her mom added. "I know she would have been so happy — she wouldn't have stopped smiling."
In January 2023, Alithia's exhibit also will be presented by L’AiR Arts at Atelier 11 — a residency in Alithia’s dream destination of Paris, France.
"L’AiR Arts residency at Atelier 11 is exactly the kind of program Alithia would have pursued to explore her craft,” Saucier explained. “It is the perfect way to honor her and inspire other future artists.”
Hernandez says the idea that Alithia's art will be displayed in Paris makes her emotional, because she knew that her daughter "was going to be an artist."
"I believed she was going places and she was going to become an artist in Paris," the mom added.
Her dream came true, just like I promised her. I told her that no matter what, I’d make it happen.
Jessica Hernandez, ALITHIA'S mom
She also hopes that when people — especially young museum visitors — in both Texas and Paris see the art her daughter left behind, they’ll be inspired to “follow their dreams and find a support system that is willing to help."
"I know a lot of people, when it comes to art, they just say it's a hobby," Hernandez said. "But I know you can make a living with art, and I told Alithia that if this is what she wanted I was going to back her up. So I want people to follow their dreams and not give up.
"Alithia was really passionate about art, and her dream came true,” she added. “Her dream came true, just like I promised her. I told her that no matter what, I’d make it happen. It came true.”