ELWOOD, Ind. — The community continues to honor the service and sacrifice of Elwood officer Noah Shahnavaz, who died Sunday morning in the line of duty.
At the Elwood Municipal Center, a cruiser adorned in flowers, teddy bears, flags, and messages of sympathy, serves as a reminder of the countless lives the 24-year-old officer and military veteran touched.
The profound impact of Shahnavaz’s death is touching all corners of the world, including strangers who never met the fallen hero, to his comrades in arms he served with in the Army.
Stories of the ways Shahnavaz helped others on and off the job have continued to emerge since his passing, coming as no shock to those who knew him most. It was another act of kindness, on his final shift, giving even greater meaning to a new mural in Elwood.
“I froze at first. I didn’t really know what to say,” said pop artist and muralist, Theodore Winters, as he watched the news Sunday night.
What Winters didn’t expect to see when he turned on his television, was the officer who approached him the day before; the officer who helped turn around a rough day, complimented his work, and spent a few moments chatting before heading back on duty to protect his community. Officer Noah Shahnavaz.
“That was my first time ever meeting him and it’s so crazy because I’m going through, watching the interviews, and everything people say about him lined up with him,” said Winters.
The artist, who specializes in painting the 1950s, was hired to paint a mural of an American flag on the outside of family-owned Joyner’s Restaurant in downtown Elwood on Saturday, one day before Shahnavaz died. As the idea came to life, it also quickly, found new meaning.
“I just tried to catch people’s attention,” said owner Mark Joyner. “With the fire station, police station right up the way, I thought, man it would be cool if we had the flag there. It would catch people’s attention and hopefully they’d come into the restaurant.”
On Saturday morning, Winters began work, under the expectation that this would be only a one-day project.
“These murals never go into two days. I always make it a priority to do these in one day,” Winters explained.
In this case, Winters feels it was a blessing in disguise that he was there later than expected, continuing his work on the mural.
“Later that night, a police car drives by. He pulls over and says, ‘Nice artwork.’ I really like the mural,” Winters shared.
“I was taught to respect service people; respect people that are in the military, respect first responders,” said Winters. “I told him every time you drive by that mural, I want you to know that people my age care. We love you, we love your service, and thank you for serving the community. Thank you for being a police officer.”
It’s the smile that everyone who knew Shahnavaz is describing, that the artist said he witnessed firsthand.
“He smiled ear to ear, and he drove off and said ‘Thank you that means a lot to me,'” said Winters. “He said that he loved his job and he was proud to be a cop.”
When he realized who the officer was after finishing the mural Sunday, Winters said he realized the mural was even more meaningful because it was one that Shahnavaz found joy in.
Before he connected the dots, Winters said he watched the sun peek out of the clouds, shining down directly on the mural. He said he took a video of it, realizing it meant something, but at that time, he still wasn’t sure what.
Courtesy: Theodore Winter
“It turned into something that, it’s more meaningful than every single painting that I’ve ever done put together,” he said.
Winters and Joyner decided there was something that needed to be done, but only with the blessing of family, the city, and the community.
“We said, we’ve got to dedicate this to him. He’s a true hero,” said Joyner.
Winters, who comes from a family of servicemembers, including his own brothers, wanted to make sure the community knew there was no effort to capitalize on tragedy. It was evident, through conversations with people and reaction online, that this is what people felt was appropriate for a hero that gave his all.
“The community decided it not us,” Winters said.
While the mural has not officially been dedicated, Winters and Joyner said, plans are in the works to host a formal ceremony in late August, bringing together the community, family of Shahnavaz, and first responders to honor his service and sacrifice.
Joyner hopes the mural brings a small bit of peace to a family grieving the loss of a beloved young man.
“I hope when they drive by they get some sense of hope, they remember his smile and who he was, and remember the heroic actions that he had,” said Joyner. “I hope that the other firemen and policemen that drive by here every day walk away and go out and do their duty with the same hope.”
“I want to show people that the flag means freedom and I think that we’ve taken that for granted for the last few years. Maybe we need to understand what it really means, and it doesn’t come for free, and we can see here it did come at a cost,” Joyner added.
Because the mural will be a stationary tribute to the fallen hero, Winters hopes to give Shahnavaz’s family something they can have to remember him by.
“The last time I saw him, he had a smile on his face and everybody that I’ve seen talk about him and talking to his family, that smile is ever-present everybody knows it,” Winters said. “I kind of wanted to put it on a canvas and I thought, I think it would just be amazing to give something to the family so when they look at this and they think about the tragedy, they see him, and they see him smiling.”
Using paint from the mural, Winters said he isn’t hoping to replicate a photo of Shahnavaz, but depict through the way he knows best — painting — the way he and so many others remember him, even if just by one interaction.
“I haven’t told the family that I’m doing this yet so they’re probably going to find out when they’re doing this interview,” said Winters. “It’s just as a token of my appreciation for his service and to try and help them grieve and heal a little bit.”
“People should see his smile. His smile should be put out there,” he said.
Funeral plans for Shahnavaz were also announced Wednesday. You can read more about those by visiting the link here.