Santa Cruz will never forget Shannon Collins, the 38-year-old business owner who was killed in a random and senseless attack in May, while walking down Broadway Avenue.
On Friday evening, that became even more apparent when close friends, as well as people who never knew her personally, gathered at the Michaelangelo Gallery to celebrate her life.
Around 8 p.m., a heart shaped lantern billowed into the sky and floated over town, lit by gallery manager Lisa Litten in memory of Collins. Inside, the gallery's 9th Annual Día de los Muertos ofrenda was a touching display that captured the vibrant and eclectic spirit of Collins.
The ofrenda was designed by local artist Thomas Brisley, a friend of Collins and her husband, and a photographer who specializes in making his own frames from upcycled and found obects.
"We kind of collected things from her house, the things that she loved, so pretty much everything in there is hers, things that were near and dear to her. I added a couple of skulls, since she was very into anthroplogy and loved skeletons and skulls and things like that," said Brisley.
At the heart of the ofrenda is Collins's familiar black and red leopard print jacket, draped over a chair. The table is set with bottles of her favorite wine, a blue pack of American Spirits, a bowl of apples from her backyard, favorite books and records, and photographs of her beaming face. Her last knitting project, half finished, also adorns the ofrenda.
As friends and community members pass through, the ofrenda has been slowly collecting mementos.
"We wanted this to be a healing event for the community because her death affected the community greatly," said Litten on Sunday. "It's overwhelming what people have left."
A coworker who worked with Collins at Camouflage downtown was one of the last visitors on Friday evening, says Litten, and she came bearing a jar of tomatoes, since Collins loved to grow tomatoes, among other things.
"It's part of the healing process for sure," said Brisley of the ofrenda.
"We want people to know that we love her and that we think about her all the time, and we need to heal as a community because this could happen to anyone," said Litten.
The community is invited to leave a note or prayer for Collins, and by the end of the evening on Friday the bowl was already brimming with notes. Visitors can also leave a note for their own deceased loved ones or somebody that they miss.
"At the end of the show you take all of the prayers and notes and read them outloud in a private ceremony, and then burn them. That's a tradition and that's a tradition that we are going to continue," said Litten.
The ofrenda is open to the public every weekend in November, from noon until 4 p.m.