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Family plans statue memorial of slain student

Nearly six months after 21-year-old ASU student Kyleigh Sousa was killed just yards away from the Tempe campus, a New Jersey-based sculptor is preparing a timeless tribute to her.

Brian Hanlon, the owner of Toms River, N.J.-based Hanlon Studio, designed a three-dimensional rendition of a statue in Sousa’s likeness, and is designing and casting the sculpture free of cost to Sousa’s family.

Sousa was in the parking lot of the International House of Pancakes south of the Tempe campus on East Apache Boulevard on May 26 when a man in a late-model silver Chrysler 300 attempted to steal her purse.

She became entangled in the purse straps and was dragged several feet as the man was still driving his vehicle. Sousa was declared brain dead at a nearby Tempe hospital hours later as a result of her injuries.

A temporary marker currently designates Sousa’s gravesite at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brielle, N.J., less than five miles from the center of her hometown, Point Pleasant, N.J.

The statue is going to be placed in lieu of a headstone, Hanlon said, and he hopes to have it completed by May 26, the first anniversary of her death.

Hanlon said Sousa’s mother, Karen Montenegro, contacted him to create a memorial for Kyleigh.

“I visited the site where they purchased the plot in the cemetery,” Hanlon said. “Her mom certainly wasn’t comfortable with the initial idea of a headstone, and I agreed 110 percent.”

Bernie Sousa, Kyleigh’s brother, described early renditions of the sculpture as “brilliant.”

“He wanted to offer my mother and family something special to remember her, and who she was,” Sousa said. “Kyleigh was always smiling … and that was his perception of her — that she was always smiling, and always laughing.”

Hanlon, who said he plans to begin creating the statue this month, is still trying to secure donations of the materials required to cast the statue, which may run upwards of $45,000.

Securing the materials for the statue, though, is no easy task.

“I have to do a little begging at the foundries, but I can’t expect them to donate their services,” Hanlon said. “What I have full control of is donating my labor, which in a piece of art is easily over 60 percent of the cost, and that’s what I can certainly guarantee.”

While Hanlon is lobbying nearby foundries for donations of materials for the statue, Sousa’s family is looking to raise the funds to ensure the everlasting depiction of Kyleigh becomes a reality.

Some of the materials have been secured through donations, Bernie Sousa said, but his family is still looking to raise money to secure all of the supplies.

After the projected completion of the statue next year, Hanlon said he wanted to make a second statue commemorating Sousa with hopes it can find its place on the Tempe campus.

“A copy of this would be fitting, appropriate and well-received on the campus there,” Hanlon said. “It’s a sober reminder of what the realities are in the world today. I guess you call it the unfortunate truth.”

While nearly 2,500 miles away from Tempe, Hanlon said he’s trying to initiate contact with officials at ASU in an attempt to secure a location for a second statue.

“I’m coming from ground zero here,” Hanlon said. “I just feel in my gut that it’s the right thing to do.”

Hanlon, who has his statues in locations around the country, just finished a 16-foot-tall statue of basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, ordered by his alma mater Louisiana State University, and has already begun work designing Sousa’s sculpture.

“I do a lot of sports sculptures and a lot of high-profile people,” he said. “But when someone like this calls me, I really can’t say no.”

Hanlon’s initial rendering of the statue depicts Sousa walking on a beach, and is slated to be around 6 1/2 feet tall, and could weigh as much as 600 pounds or more, he said.

Bernie Sousa said Hanlon was keen to the fact that a dove was released during Kyleigh’s funeral, and following suit, he implemented three doves into the design of the statue, which Hanlon described as “healing elements.”

When he finishes the first clay model of Sousa’s sculpture, Hanlon said he plans to make his first in-person visit to ASU to appeal for placement of the second statue.

“I want to help her and help her family,” he said. “But at the same time, I want to raise awareness to the incident and what can be done.”

No arrest has yet been made in relation to Sousa’s death.

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