After months of petitioning, donating and designing, the Blackwell and Muehlberger families unveiled two obelisks honoring their children, Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell, at Memorial Plaza in Central Park on Friday.
“Today, we are here to celebrate Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Michael Blackwell. Their spirit, their passions and their spark that they brought to the world that loved so many will carry for them,” Santa Clarita Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste said during the ceremony’s introduction. “This memorial plaza will be a place to remember and celebrate Gracie and Dominic.”
Both students were victims of a mass shooting at Saugus High School on Nov. 14, 2019, one of among 417 mass shootings that year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Three individuals were injured and the shooter, student Nathaniel Berhow, took his own life with what Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva claimed to be a “ghost gun,” an untraceable firearm with no serial number and separately acquired parts.
After a moment of silence for Tory Carlon, the Los Angeles County firefighter whose life was lost at a shooting located at an Agua Dulce fire station on Tuesday, the Blackwell and Muehlberger families unveiled the new obelisks, each honoring the two Saugus High School students, respectively.
The obelisks are eleven feet tall with a solid concrete and steel foundation, made up of over 28,000 individually cut and crafted Italian mosaic glass tile. They took eight weeks prior to the installation and two weeks of on-site work to complete. Alan Stump, an architect with the city of Santa Clarita, designed the plaza area within the park, whereas the location of the obelisks within the plaza was done in coordination with city officials. The designs were brought to life by world-renowned artist Jonathon Cohen with Joseph and Sons Mosaics, who worked directly with the Muehlberger and Blackwell families.
Muehlberger’s obelisk consists of mosaic artwork making up a photo of her smiling face, ocean waves, her signature “G,” her favorite Starbucks caramel frappucino, her hometown of St. Louis, Mo., musical notes and more. Blackwell’s obelisk depicts his smiling face, characters from his favorite show “Spongebob Squarepants,” candy corn, the Disney character Wall-E, and a photo of him and his family.
After the unveiling, Blackwell’s father shared a few words, thanking the councilmembers and members of the water board for their willingness in building this space to heal.
“Today we come together once again, as a community united, as friends, families, neighbors and peers, as mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, to begin a new journey of healing,” Frank said. “A journey of healthy mourning, shared grieving and the quiet comfort of solidarity.”
“…I want to hold on to the sweetest memories of my son,” he continued. “I want to remember his bold laugh, his witty comebacks, his silliness, the way he took care of his younger brothers and remained loyal to his closest friends. I want to feel the weightlessness of his carefree demeanor, and his over-the-top plans. I want to laugh over his unflinching adoration of a bright square sea sponge and his gang of squid, snail and starfish best friends. I want to do that every day for the rest of my life, because I need those memories to somehow redeem the years to come that he was robbed of. I need those memories to fill me with comfort and gratitude, and as hard as I try to linger in those happy memories, I am often blindsided by the agonizing reality that I don’t get to have him back. I won’t see Dominic grow into a man, become a loving husband or a gentle father. I won’t ever see him realize his dreams, make remarkable life plans, or overcome his greatest obstacles. That dream is gone for me now, and the pain of that reality is remarkable and indescribable.”
Muehlberger’s father Bryan then took to the podium, again thanking all members of the community who made the memorial possible.
“This memorial is not about the tragedy and that painful event. It is about so much more,” he said. “It is about the very special, unique – something that came out of this tragedy. It is about the coming together of the city of Santa Clarita, something I have never seen or experienced anywhere else.”
“We are all human, we are all vulnerable, we all need each other in a time of need. As the father of Gracie I will tell you first hand, that I have never felt the power of a community more than I did in the days, weeks, and months following the tragedy,” Bryan continued. “To this day I still experience the generosity of so many of you, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
The next speaker was Mia Tretta accompanied by Derek Diaz, two Saugus students who organized lemonade stands last summer to raise money for the memorial’s construction, raising over $6,000 in funds.
“Today we are gathered here not just to see the memorials, but to honor and celebrate the lives of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell,” Tretta said. “We as a community stood together that day. We cried together, we mourned together, and now we are able to celebrate together through these beautiful memorials.”
“When you look at the obelisks, remember that they are more than just an object. They are a representation of two extraordinary people. People that we should look up to,” Tretta said. “Somebody once told me, ‘Be the things you miss about somebody.’ When I look at these memorials, I will remember to be courageous like Gracie, try and cheer everyone up. I will remember to be loyal like Dominic and have that infectious laugh. I encourage all of you to do the same.”
The final speaker of the morning was Saugus High School Assistant Principal Marcus Garrett.
“We believe that this location here at Central Park is the most fitting place for us to be able to memorialize Dominic and Gracie,” Garrett said. “It’s where our community gathered here to grieve, but also to celebrate the lives of both of them. It’s going to be a place that forever allows our community to come and remember them, long beyond all of our existences here.”
The memorial stands at the main entrance to Central Park and is surrounded by benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the beautiful artwork honoring the lives of the two students.
“If you find yourself curious about Dominic or Gracie, this is where you’ll find them now, in this shattered glass made beautiful once more in these mosaics,” Blackwell said. “In this space, we hope that you feel surrounded by the love Dominic and Gracie left behind for us. We hope you know how loved and valued you are, and how much the world needs you to make it brighter.”
On Feb. 18, 2021, their names were added to the main sign driving into Central Park, following a petition in collaboration with the city led by Frank Blackwell, Dominic’s father. The petition received over 10,000 signatures in support.
Weste, standing in for Mayor Bill Miranda, led the unveiling ceremony. Also in attendance were Councilmembers Marsha McLean and Jason Gibbs, City Manager Ken Striplin, Assistant City Manager Frank Oviedo, Commission Chair for Parks and Recreation Commission Diana Boone, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Captain Justin Diaz and several deputies, representatives from the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency including Kathye Armitage, Beth Braunstein, William Cooper and Gary Martin, and representatives from the offices of Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita), State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
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