‘Art kept me alive:’ How an unexpected night in turned into a mural dedicated to the Oregon District shooting victims

Credit: Sarah Franks

Credit: Sarah Franks

“I was 15 minutes late when I’m never late.”

“Something was pulling me to stay in for the night and take time for myself.”

These are the kinds of stories friends have been telling Cherish Harrell Brooks — and many other Daytonians have been sharing with their own friends — since the mass shooting in the Oregon District on Sunday, Aug. 4, when nine innocent victims were killed by a shooter firing into crowds along East Fifth Street in Dayton.

Brooks, owner of The Secret Chamber House of Oddities and Artwork shop in Fairborn, was painting by way of flood lights and her car lights until late into the night on Saturday, August 3. It was the first free Saturday she'd had in a long time, and up until that night, she was planning to meet good friends out in the Oregon District late that Saturday night.

Credit: Sarah Franks

Credit: Sarah Franks

Those friends, Brooks said, ended up witnessing the shooting. One of her friends told Brooks that she dropped to the ground, “and when the cops were firing at the gunman, people were screaming and crying, and she felt every gunshot in her chest. She felt every one of them,” Brooks said.

Plans for a mural on the back exterior of her shop had long been on Brooks’ mind. But for one reason or another, that Saturday when she was supposed to be having fun with friends in the Oregon District, she decided to dive into the project.

“I needed to show Fairborn that this isn’t a ‘Halloween’ store. Then it happened.”

“I had nothing to do for the first Saturday in a long time. And I had friends that were going downtown. I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m going to do that.’ Then I just kept getting this hankering to start painting this wall.”

“I was parked out back here and I was just like, ‘You know what, I’m doing it tonight.’ I was in the dark, I used the flood light and lights on my car, and it was dark back here, and I just decided to paint it beige, and I was like, ‘You know what, this is not spectacular enough. Something needs to go here.’ I said that Saturday night.”

“I was painting until around midnight, and it was already so late and everything, in my body was ‘I’m going!’ and then I’m like, ‘But I’ve got to do this one other thing.’ The urgency (to go) was not there. Something was pulling me to stay,” Brooks said.

Before the tragic night, Brooks wanted the mural to be something that showed Fairborn her store was not merely a Halloween store, but much more. By midnight, Brooks had only completed the beige background. However, by Sunday morning, all those original plans changed.

“Art probably saved my life, just painting that wall that night,” Brooks said. “I’m the one that runs towards danger instead of away from it. Especially if I feel my friends are threatened ... I was supposed to be with them that night.”

Now, on the back of the shop, the mural depicts nine black flowers spring up from a black, grassy meadow. Each flower pays homage to one of the nine victims lost in the shooting.

“The minute you’re hearing that this is going on, you’re thinking, ‘I know people down there, I know people that work there, live there. The panic — it’s affected a lot of people, and I wanted to show that even though if we were not right there, we are all affected. ... Even if you’re not walking down the Oregon District, you should be able to remember at any time. These people deserve that. I wanted to show that Fairborn has that on its mind, too,” Brooks said.

The Secret Chamber House of Oddities and Artwork is located at 17 West Main St. in Fairborn.

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