For years, most of Lei Hennessy-Owen's work as a sculptor was making whimsical figures of animals and mermaids, generally as garden centerpieces. Then, in 1999, she heard about a pair of 10-year-old boys killed when a fuel pipeline exploded in Bellingham, Wash. Hennessy-Owen crafted an 8-foot-tall angel from a sheet of steel and it was placed as a memorial to the boys, in front of their school.
Two years later, a firefighter from the Seattle area remembered the sculpture and called her a few days after the World Trade Center was attacked. At his request, Hennessy-Owen cooperated with Seattle ironworkers to make another angel — this one 30-feet tall — and the group trucked it to ground zero to show their support for people in New York.
The angel eventually ended up at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Hangar 17, where Hennessy-Owen walked through a graveyard of charred and twisted girders salvaged from the Trade Center. She continued making silhouettes of angels — many of them dedicated to those injured or killed in the wars that followed Sept. 11. But as the10th anniversary of the attacks approached, Hennessy-Owen prepared to move on.
Then, this past January, watching a television report on the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., the artist was struck by footage from the funeral for the youngest victim, Christina-Taylor Green. Green had been born on Sept. 11, 2001, and firefighters marked her death by draping a flag, taken from ground zero, between the raised ladders of two engines.
Hennessy-Owen began making calls, then set to work on a new steel angel, 9-feet, 11-inches high. On the first Friday in April, with Green's parents watching, the sculpture was unveiled at the park in Tucson where Green was the only girl on her Little League team. At the angel's feet lay a pair of boulders from near the site in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down, bits of wreckage from the Pentagon and a twisted steel beam sent from Hangar 17.
At the ceremony, the Greens were joined by another couple, a generation older. Hennessy-Owen had invited Joe and Betty Ginley, who lost their son, John, a firefighter killed on 9/11.
"They know what it's like to lose a child and you just kind of need to stick together," Hennessy-Owen says. "I think you can really help people if you can kind of share in the grief and yet give them something positive to focus on, to kind of keep them going."