Seeing her portrait among other painted faces at the Souls Shot art exhibit in Chestnut Hill last year, Tacony resident Diamond Santiago realized how lucky she was.
Souls Shot: Portraits of Victims of Gun Violence keeps the names and faces of victims of gun violence alive. Most of the victims portrayed lost their lives. Santiago remembered seeing the surprise register on viewers’ faces when they realized she was the person in the portrait, and she was still very much alive.
“Speaking at the event gave a lot of people hope, and it made me feel good about myself, knowing about what happened to me could help other people,” she said.
Santiago, now a junior at Esperanza Academy Charter School in North Philadelphia, had been shot in the stomach when she was 13 years old in 2015. She had been visiting her father in Port Richmond and was out later than her mother, Mildred, would have approved.
“The first thing that came into my head was, my mom’s going to kill me,” she said, recalling the experience of realizing she was shot. She was sitting on the porch with her friend when two men ran by “out of nowhere” shooting guns. She ran into the house and hadn’t even realized she was shot until she saw her brother, whom she called the “toughest person,” crying.
A friend in the Army came from across the street when he heard what happened and put pressure on her side and encouraged her not to close her eyes, hitting her face to keep her awake.
“I had so much adrenaline that it didn’t really hurt,” she said.
She was taken to Temple Hospital and underwent a seven-hour surgery, not waking up until after a two-week coma. Doctors told her family at the time she wasn’t expected to make it.
“It was a lot of faith and a lot of prayers,” Mildred said.
Santiago has regained her physical strength in the years since, now being strong enough to attend school part time, which she started about a month ago. She said it was easy going back because everyone knew her, and she enjoys math and science and enjoys drawing, singing and dancing. If she could be anything in the world, she would want to be a model.
She’s also been using her voice to spread her story. The Souls Shot exhibit will return to Philadelphia at the Allens Lane Theater in March as part of a production of 26 Pebbles directed by two Northeast Philadelphia residents. Santiago will participate in a talk back about gun violence following the March 10 show.
26 Pebbles is a show about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, where 26 victims lost their lives. Six actors will portray 19 characters from Sandy Hook and its location in Newtown, Connecticut. “These deaths like pebbles thrown into a pond, created ripples and vibrations felt far and wide,” the description reads.
The play will be directed by Burholme residents Scott Grumling and T. Patrick Ryan, who spoke about their experience with the show.
“There’s a section in the show here the actors begin writing out the names of the victims, and we have them calling out the names as they’re writing. The first time we rehearsed that, the actors on stage started crying,” Ryan said. “We were realizing the weight of what the show means.”
Grumling stressed that the show would not be all “gloom and doom” and offers entertaining elements, but also tells a serious story.
“The play address the effects on a community that’s been impacted by a mass gun shooting,” Grumling said. “I think in today’s world, we have so much media coverage that’s unfortunately becoming very frequent where we hear about mass shooting. One of the things people often forget about is we don’t always have as much media coverage when individual gun violence happens in our community. People are affected the same way, and no one is immune from that impact.” ••
If you go…
Artwork from Souls Shot will be on display at Allens Lane Theater at 601 West Allens Lane. The show will run at 8 p.m. on March 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16, and at 2 p.m. on March 3, 10 and 17. Tickets are available at allenslane.org or 215-248-0546 in advance or $30 at the door.