MATTHEWS – Graffiti artist Shane Pierce was in the middle of painting a mural at a middle school in Concord when an assistant principal at the school told the Charlotte resident there had been another school shooting.
This time it was close to home.
The shooting at Butler on Oct. 29 occurred when Jatwan Cuffie allegedly shot and killed sophomore Bobby McKeithen during an altercation in a hallway near the cafeteria. Cuffie went to a classroom and then surrendered to police about six minutes after the shooting. Cuffie allegedly told the teacher he had shot McKeithen and he has been charged with first-degree murder and is currently in the Mecklenburg County jail. The school was placed on lockdown for almost two hours after the shooting.
Pierce, whose former high school in Ohio had a mass shooting after he graduated, immediately felt a need to help the Butler community with the healing process. And some spray paint, some primer and Pierce’s artistic talent and experience with murals seemed to be the perfect solution.
Pierce called the school the day after the shooting and talked with Dorothy Flaherty, who works in the office at Butler.
“I called the school and told them who I was,” Pierce said. “I told them to check out some of my social media and check out some of my work. I told them I was interested in doing a piece. I kind of felt that they needed it and it might help.”
Pierce made the call to Butler and then met Flaherty after he had finished his mural in Concord, which is the biggest mural he has ever done.
“I was thinking I was going to do it (Butler mural) over the weekend,” Pierce said. “I was exhausted. I did a 20-by-55 foot mural at Concord Middle in three-and-a-half days. I actually came home after I met her, passed out, woke up, designed it and went back to sleep. She called and said, ‘Can you do it today (Oct. 31).’ I said yes and I told her I would try to get this whole thing done.”
Butler students returned to classes on Nov. 1 after having two days off from school following the shooting. Pierce, who works alone, used a gallon of primer and 20 gallons of spray paint to create a “We are Butler” mural that features a bulldog in the middle.
“I worked until midnight to make sure it was done before the kids came back,” Pierce said. “It took 10 hours, 10 hours straight. I’m addicted to giving back. That is what makes me feel good, when I see people’s reactions.”
Butler wrestling coach and physical education teacher Van Barkley said the new mural has been a help in the healing process.
“Oh man, that was absolutely amazing,” Barkley said. “The students have been talking about it. It is a beautiful, beautiful piece of art. It is exactly what we needed.”
Butler principal John LeGrand agrees.
“The support of our community has been overwhelming,” LeGrand said. “Having Shane Pierce come in and donate his time means so much to our Butler family as we work to move forward.”
The new mural has also been a hit on social media. Many students paused to take photos with the mural and posted them on social media with the hashtag #WeAreButler. One post about the mural over several different platforms has well over 160,000 views.
“I didn’t think it was going to turn out to be such a big deal when I was doing it,” Pierce said. “I had no idea that these kids would walk in and attach themselves to the mural and turn it in to what is has become. The kids are the ones that made that post go crazy like it did.”
Pierce’s personal connection to what happened at Butler happened several years after he graduated from Chardon High School in Ohio. The school suffered a mass shooting in which three students were killed and two others were seriously hurt. The shooting happened in February 2012.
“I know people who were sitting at the table where people were getting shot,” Pierce said. “In a small town like that, it was very personal and it was a tragedy. What is hitting me hard right now is my niece is going through drills for shooters because she is going to school in that town.
“My mom calls me and tells me, ‘she is crying, she is upset.’ She thinks sometimes the drills are real. We feel helpless. What can you do? This was all fresh in my mind when the shooting at Butler happened because my mom and I had been talking about it all the time. When I heard about the shooting at Butler, it just rehashed everything. I should probably go back to my high school and do a mural. It makes sense to go back home and do one.”
Pierce moved to Charlotte three years ago and mainly painted on canvas until he started spray painting. His work can be seen all over the area.
“The demand for it is what really made it take off,” Pierce said. “I was up in Salisbury where I started spray painting and it spread like wildfire throughout the town where everybody wanted it. They wanted murals, and I forgot about canvas and every other medium and I just focused on graffiti (art), street art and murals. The past year has been full bore at it.”
On the web: http://abstract dissent.com. Pierce can also be found on Facebook and Twitter and those links are on his website.