An artist who is dubbed “New Jersey’s Sculptor” is planning to produce a slightly larger than life-size bronze sculpture of a 21-year-old Arizona State University pre-law student who was dragged to her death nearly six months ago.
Brian Hanlon of Hanlon Sculpture Studios in Toms River, N.J., close to Kyleigh Sousa’s home town, said he was touched after her mother contacted him in the summer about the possibility of placing something more than a headstone at her grave site in The Greenwood Cemetery in Brielle, N.J.
Sousa died hours after a man driving what witnesses described as a newer model silver Chrysler 300 grabbed her purse about 2 a.m. May 26 in the 200 block of East Apache Boulevard in front of an International House of Pancakes restaurant near the ASU campus in Tempe and sped off. Sousa, who was tangled in the purse straps, was dragged by the car and suffered severe injuries. She was pronounced dead hours later at a nearby hospital.
Sousa’s death is an unsolved case that was brought to the forefront of media attention after the shooting death of 21-year-old ASU student Zachary Marco, who was shot in the 1100 block of East University Drive while walking home about 9:30 p.m. Oct. 17. Police are looking for two suspects who ran from the scene and say Marco was killed for his iPod and an old laptop computer.
Hanlon said he likes to use his work and talent as a healing tool for those who mourn the loss of loved ones who died young or tragically.
“When Kyleigh’s mother, Karen Montenegro, contacted me and took me to the cemetery, it really hit me,” said Hanlon, 49. “This is really a sad, sad story. She was too young, too beautiful, too full of life. After looking through pictures of Kyleigh, I sensed an attitude in her that she was full of life and she walked forward into life with a smile on her face that helped to inspire others around her.”
The sculpture of Sousa will depict her walking off the beach in a windswept dress surrounded by three doves in flight to represent her spiritual flight. Hanlon said the sculpture of Sousa will be about 6 1/2 feet tall and take about six months to complete. The estimated $100,000 cost of Sousa’s sculpture will be covered by the labor Hanlon is donating and part of the proceeds from other high-profile sculptures he has been contracted to make.
Hanlon said he hopes to have the sculpture of Sousa completed by the first anniversary of her death, something he said he knows will be hard and emotional for her family.
“Kyleigh’s mother is a mess,” Hanlon said. “The recent death of the ASU student (Marco) brought Kyleigh’s murder back to Day One for her.”
Hanlon has sculpted pieces to honor 9/11 victims and EMS-related memorials or those who have achieved greatness in their lifetimes. He believes in making a profound statement about topics that need to be discussed.
“Art does have a way of helping people if it’s done right,” Hanlon said. “There is a safety issue with this college campus with two students dying in a similar way. I believe it’s important to communicate issues like this to create more of an awareness.”
Hanlon said he also would like to do a sculpture of Sousa that can be placed on or near the ASU campus, but knows that crimes near the campus are a delicate subject for college officials and Tempe police.
“The sculpture can serve as a reminder for students to be on guard,” Hanlon said. “Life is so precious and can be taken away so quickly.”
Much of Hanlon’s fulfillment comes from being able to depict subjects who have achieved greatness in their lifetimes. Among his favorites are athletes, and he is official sculptor for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Much of Brian’s work also decorates places of worship, with the Roman Catholic church being one of his largest patrons.
Currently, Hanlon is preparing to work on a sculpture of NBA Hall of Famer Dave Bing, who is working as the mayor of Detroit without pay, and one of Shaquille O’Neal to be placed in front of Louisiana State University.
“By doing this, I hope to help Karen and her family,” Hanlon said. “I know Kyleigh’s mother would like to get into some kind of prevention work to help stop something like this from happening again and the sculpture will play a role in that.”
Tempe police have not released any new information in the Sousa case, but said they continue to follow up on leads.
Police want to find the person who dropped a driver’s license belonging to a friend of Sousa’s into a Phoenix mailbox sometime between May 26 and June 20; it was stolen by the men in the car during the robbery moments before Sousa was dragged.
Anyone can share information about either death with Tempe police at (480) 350-8311 or Silent Witness at (480) 948-6377.