Tattoos After Tragedy: Mass Shooting Inspires Artists to Take Action

Sep 12, 2019
Originally published on September 16, 2019 9:20 am

Dayton themed tattoos have become popular across the city since the mass shooting in the Oregon District last month. People are getting Gem City designs, Dayton Strong ink, the shape of the state with a star where the city lies.

Tattoo fundraisers have become popular, too. More than 100 people got inked at an event called “Drawing Dayton Together.” And another fundraiser, “For the Love of Dayton,” is scheduled for this Sunday, September 15, at the Antioch Shrine in downtown Dayton.

Artists and customers are using the ink to help their community heal. 

Drawing Dayton Together 

Over 100 people were tattooed in one day at the Yellow Cab Tavern in the Oregon District.

The Yellow Cab usually isn’t the place to get a tattoo, but this was a fundraiser for the Dayton Foundation in the wake of a mass shooting that killed nine and injured dozens.

Tattoos were just $50, but the artists didn’t keep a dime. They donated their time and ink. All the money went to charity.

Outside the tattoo room, there were live bands, fire dancers, and food trucks. But inside, it was all about the art.

Tyler Mackey and his friends decided to show their city pride by getting ink that honors Dayton’s most famous family.

“I’m getting Orville Wright,” Mackey said. “My buddy’s getting Wilbur Wright, and my other buddy is getting the third Wright brother, who was an accountant.”

Mackey was wowed by what the artists did for the city.

“It was easy on my part,” he said. “I just had to stand in line, but these guys have been tattooing for eight hours straight. It’s amazing to watch.”

Will Eagle from RocArt Tattoo was one of the artists. He drew 16 tattoos by the end of the day.

“I’ve done a lot of Ohio outlines with Dayton in it,” Eagle said. “I did this really cool Gem City tattoo that Dave from Blue Byrd Tattoo & Piercing drew. I’ve done a lot of paper airlines. Lots of cool stuff.”

Eagle thinks events like this play an important role in how the tattoo community works.

“In the past has been animosity between shops. There used to be rivalries, all this stuff, and what we’re showing here is that we’ve evolved,” Eagle said. “We’ve come further than that. We’re bringing everybody together. It doesn’t matter where you work or who you are, we’re here for the community.”

And Daytonians seem eager to use tattoos as a sign of unity after a summer that saw a mass shooting, a KKK rally, and multiple tornadoes.

James Sercu was in line for a tattoo at 3PM. He had to leave and go to work, but came back at 10PM. At 11, he finally got his ink: the shape of a gem with the Gem City skyline inside it.

“It's just heartbreaking,” Sercu said of the lives lost this summer. “You never think it's going to be your community. This is a powerful moment in Dayton for everybody to stand up, and I’m trying to be a part wherever I can.”

Lacey Terrell, one of the event organizers, said she felt bad about not having had a chance to raise money for tornado relief, and so she knew she wanted to step up after the shooting.

“I feel like it’s also having pride for being from Dayton,” Terrell said. “What once was a sad city is now coming together and becoming so strong. And then who doesn’t want their city’s name tattooed on them?” 

For the Love of Dayton

A few days later and a few blocks away, Shari Hignite and Shannon Hous meet up at the sidewalk bar at Toxic Brew Company. They’re setting up Dayton’s next tattoo fundraiser. It’s called “For the Love of Dayton,” and 37 tattoo artists are coming in from all over. There’s one from Germany and a couple who are well-known from the TV show Ink Master.

But tattooers are just one aspect of the event.  There will also be bands, comedians, blackjack tables, facepainting for kids, vendors, piercers, bars, and food trucks.

Hous says this will be an emotional event for her, with a friend who was injured in the shooting wanting to get new ink, if the doctors let her.

“Nicole is her name. She was here. She suffered a gunshot wound to the head. She’s been released from the hospital but did contact me when she was in the hospital and said, ‘Hey! I would love to come to the event and get tattooed if possible.’

“That’s what we’re here for,” Hous says. “We want our city healthy again.”

The outdoor seating at Toxic Brew Company is just steps from where the shooter opened fire. Toxic’s Warehouse and Distribution Manager Adam Stephens says Toxic will be donating beer and manpower to the event. He was at Toxic the night of the shooting.

“I was actually, more or less, where we’re standing right now,” Stephens says. “I heard a couple of pops. It was just the weirdest thing. I’ve heard so many people say it. It sounded like firecrackers. Then I saw everybody running, and I came back in through this side door and it hit me.

“It was one of those things that was over so quick. I didn’t even realize what was going on until the aftermath, walking through, trying to process all that--all the images and everything--was rough.”

Stephens says his coworkers’ heroics impressed him that night.

“They just rushed everybody immediately inside and took care of everybody in the back and made sure everybody was safe,” he says. “I couldn’t be prouder of how everybody handled that.”

On Stephens’ forearm, there’s some fresh ink: an outline of the map of Ohio with a Gem where Dayton lies. Stephens says he got his tattoo at an event at White Anvil Tattoo. The shop was giving that tattoo to anyone who wanted it, free of charge, and lots of people started to show up.

Stephens says “at least a couple hundred of us Daytonians are walking around with them right now.”

And after this weekend, there will be even more Dayton Strong ink in a city that wears its heart on its tattoo sleeves. 

For the Love of Dayton will be held at the Antioch Shrine on 1st Street in downtown Dayton from noon to midnight. For more information, visit their Facebook page

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