DONNA — With only $40 worth of paint and the help of his family, Alamo muralist Alexander Gonzalez brought the search for Vanessa Guillen to the Rio Grande Valley this week.
Painting Wednesday and Thursday, Gonzalez’s mural graces the Hernandez Car Wash in Donna, showing Guillen dressed in her uniform in front of a backdrop of the U.S. and Mexican flags.
Guillen, a 20-year-old private first class in the U.S. Army, disappeared two months ago from Fort Hood in Killeen. Authorities suspect foul play was involved in her disappearance.
Gonzalez painted the mural almost 400 miles south of where Guillen vanished, saying he was inspired to get involved after seeing the young soldier’s mother speak about her daughter in an interview.
“I demand justice,” Gloria Guillen, Vanessa’s mother, said in Spanish during a nationally broadcast news conference Tuesday. “I demand their respect and respect for my daughter as a soldier, as she enlisted in the Army for her country and for her homeland to defend every one of us. Now that she needs us we need to help her and find her.”
Those words moved Gonzalez.
“Days ago, I saw that Vanessa’s mom was just going at it, saying everything courageously, with every beat of her heart,” he said in Spanish. “She was crying, and I was like, ‘You got to do this. You got to help.’”
Guillen’s disappearance has sparked national media attention and is being treated as a criminal investigation. The Associated Press has reported that a $50,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to Guillen’s whereabouts.
The disappearance has also led to protests and outrage over the lack of progress in the case.
“I had already seen Vanessa’s story, and I was like, ‘Man, she’s been lost for a while and nobody’s doing nothing,’” Gonzalez said.
For a week, Gonzalez looked for a place to paint the mural all over the Rio Grande Valley, but struggled to obtain permission. Finally, he found a home for the mural at the Hernandez Car Wash in Donna.
Gonzalez believes finding that carwash was destiny, saying that some of Guillen’s family lives in Donna. He said he met them while he was painting the mural and they also offered him help.
They weren’t the only ones to pitch in. As he painted, people stopped by to donate to him and watch him for hours. Specifically, Gonzalez thanks the Donna City Commission and Donna Police Department as well as the residents for showing support.
“I really want to thank the community for helping me out,” he said. “Without them, I never would have finished.”
Gonzalez says he believes that whenever someone does an act like this, it brings awareness to the community, and he hopes this presses forward the search for Guillen.
“I don’t want to be the center of attention,” he said. “I want Vanessa to be the center of attention. Keep looking for her. Right now… From the bottom of my heart, I can say that. Hopefully, they will find her and justice will be done. That’s all I want.”