ELWOOD, Ind. — Inside the walls of Native Ink Tattoo, shop owner Brandee Gordon is working to honor a fallen hero through her artwork.
“It’s a mix of emotions. I’m proud and I’m happy that I get to do this for them, but at the same time, I wish I wasn’t. I wish I didn’t have them in my chair for that reason,” said Gordon.
On July 31, Elwood Police Department Officer Noah Shahnavaz answered his final call. The 24-year-old, who served in the Army for 5 years and was a military police officer before joining the department, was shot and killed during a traffic stop.
His family said the support from the community has meant the world to them.
“It’s been so healing to us that these people have given sacrificially, whether it be financial donations, or gifts, or handmade gifts, or their skills, like Brandee is doing, just to honor Noah’s memory, it really is helping to heal us,” said Laurie Shahnavaz, Noah’s mom.
“Not only just Brandee, but other people are also sharing their talents with us, and it really shows how much they love us and it makes this whole thing a whole lot easier,” said Sarah Shahnavaz, Noah’s sister.
There are countless words Noah’s family said they could use to describe their hero. Some of those include tenacious, courageous, kind, funny, and caring.
“He just had a way of connecting with people who needed him most. He didn’t see flaws in people,” said Noah’s dad, Matt Shahnavaz. “He just saw people for who they were. It could be relating with a small child. He had a way with children. He would have been an awesome father.”
As family, friends, and brothers and sisters in blue carry the memories of Noah in their hearts, many, including Matt, wanted a piece of permanent art to physically remember him by, too.
“It’s just something that they can permanently carry with them, day-in and day-out, 24/7, I mean and just always have it to look at. It’s permanent; a permanent tribute,” said Gordon.
Gordon, whose been tattooing for 25 years, said the first request from family members was from Noah’s dad, however, it was Sarah who reached out to ask about the piece.
“I realized that I needed to do something that was going to be more of a permanent remembrance. Anyone can wear an arm band or a tee-shirt,” said Matt, “I wanted something to be a little bit more permanent.”
Matt added, “I knew that there was a tattoo artist in Elwood and if I was gonna get a tattoo honoring Noah, it had to be done in Elwood.”
Now, Matt, Laurie, Sarah, and Noah’s younger brother, Elijah, have pieces of artwork that help memorialize the young man they were so proud to call their family.
While the Shahnavaz family was some of the first to get ink in Noah’s honor, they certainly weren’t the last.
Gordon said more than 20 people, including Elwood police officers and spouses and Elwood’s mayor have now come to get a tattoo in Noah’s honor.
“I kind of thought I was the only one who had this thought to do something like this and I asked Sarah to reach out to Brandee and found out she was getting requests to do this for a lot of different people,” said Matt.
“It wasn’t long after that, the EPD officers hit me up, to get tattooed of course,” said Gordon. “I’ve witnessed some tears, some laughter, I’ve witnessed stories about Noah. I’ve listened to how they feel, their feelings about going back to work. A lot of deep conversations, but a lot of good stories about Noah.”
Gordon said she knows this can be cathartic or healing for his loved ones and fellow officers who have come to pay tribute to him through art.
“He made connections with people, connections so strong they felt obligated, they felt a calling to carry him with them for the rest of their lives,” said Sarah. “It just makes me happy knowing that I was able to share my brother with so many amazing people.”
Noah’s family said they are grateful to Gordon for helping to provide an outlet of healing for them, too. Matt shared, in designing his tattoo for Noah, it was also a moment of peace and escape from everything going on.
“It was also a bit therapeutic for me to be able to take my mind off of everything that was going around — the chaos,” Matt shared.
All of the tattoos in Noah’s honor are unique, and carry weight to each person wearing them proudly on their skin.
Gordon said many were fairly simple, but the two that took the longest were her partner’s, who also serves on EPD, and Matt’s.
“He was the first family to reach out to me, but the last family member to get tattooed. He put a lot of thought into his,” said Gordon. “His initials and shattered glass, with the blue line going through it. The shattered glass signifies how this has shattered their family and the thin blue line is how the Elwood Police Department is holding them together.”
For Laurie, she wanted to have a piece of Noah’s handwriting on her.
“We found his inventory of all of his police equipment and were able to get his name and badge number. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Brandee is she’s customizing these things for us, and what kind of means a lot to us, and she makes it happen. That was healing to be able to talk to her. She’s such a warm and giving person, we just really appreciated that she did that for us,” said Laurie.
Family shared, Gordon wouldn’t accept money for the tattoos that she did for them. It’s a gesture they were overwhelmed with gratitude by, and one that Gordon said was the least she could do.
“After everything happened, it was just very obvious to me that I was going to get something done. Everything I have, has a meaning to me and the fact that I have something on my body now that I can carry with me everywhere I go, it’s just another reminder that he’s still there, even if he’s not physically here,” said Sarah.
The family said Noah never had any tattoos of his own, even after serving for five years in the Army and traveling all over.
“I always thought it was funny he goes into the Army, spends five years and comes back without a single tattoo,” said Matt. “Noah, I think he would also be and he is, I think, laughing at people, especially the first time people getting tattoos honoring him.”
Meantime, Sarah said she laughs at the thought of what Noah would think about his parents having tattoos — a day she thought she’d never see.
“I think he would be cracking up in general over that fact that our dad and mom got tattoos,” said Sarah, who added, her grandparents are also looking to get in line next for theirs.
The gestures by Gordon, his fellow officers and neighbors in Elwood, mean the world to them.
“Any time you look down on your body, you’re going to see this piece of yourself that is also a piece of Noah,” said Matt.
“We’ve always felt that Elwood was a family, even from Noah’s interview,” said Laurie. “The chief’s father was my high school geography teacher, so we made that connection when they came to the home to do the background interview.”
“It kind of already had that family feel, but after everything that happened, for everyone to just honor Noah by putting something permanent on their body in a way that we wanted to do — that they loved him that much that they wanted to honor him that way — it makes us feel even closer to those guys,” said Laurie.
Noah’s family said they are grateful to the support and love that Gordon, the department, and the community has shown after everything that happened. They find comfort and healing in the continued stories of good Noah did for others.
“It’s almost on a daily basis that people we never met that are reaching out to us and sharing different things that Noah did for them, even that he saved their life. People don’t have to communicate that, but they’re stepping out, they’re telling us these things,” said Laurie. “I think he just went out of his way to make people’s days brighter.”
Right now, Gordon said she is tattooing the memorial pieces on family and department members. Anyone hoping to honor Noah’s memory is encouraged to attend a blood drive on Tuesday at Ascension St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Elwood.
The blood drive will go from noon to 6 p.m. and honor Officer Shahnavaz. His parents plan to be there to donate in his memory.
“If I could give every drop of blood to bring him back, I would do that in a second,” said Matt. “Since that’s not possible, donating a pint of my blood to save three people, that’s a small sacrifice. It’s something Noah would appreciate. It’s something he would have done, no questions asked.”
You can sign up for the blood drive here: Versiti Blood Center of Indiana – Donor Portal.