GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Can art solve a murder? More than 2,100 people on Facebookthink it can.
On Thursday, a major new work by 2010 ArtPrize finalist John O'Hearn was unveiled at the C.O.D.A. Art Gallery in downtown Grand Rapids. This new "ball mosaic" art was commissioned by several followers of the WZZM 13 Deanie Peters Facebook page, to raise public awareness and pressure to resolve the 31-year search for Deanie Peters.
"As an artist, you really want to make your mark," said John O'Hearn, Grand Rapids native and creator of "Deanie Art."
The disappearance of Deanie Peters on February 5, 1981 has stymied police and haunted an entire generation, especially the students of Forest Hills Central and the families of Cascade and Ada.
It remains the oldest and most well-known cold case in Michigan history.
In an aggressive new effort led by Deanie's former classmates, Deanie's friends are leveraging social media to share clues, ideas and other information critical to the case - in real time. The results have uncovered names, places, memories and even evidence never before considered. In less than two years, over 2,100 "friends" from around the world have signed on to follow this Facebook group, and its momentum continues to grow.
O'Hearn hopes his art can be an extension of that.
"In some way, this case needs to get solved," said O'Hearn. "I want to help with that."
Over the past year, the Facebook group committed to a fundraising effort, with the goal of commissioning a credible and inspiring piece of art that would further boost public interest in the case. The group contacted Traverse City-based ArtPrize finalist John O'Hearn in late 2011 to present its plan and ask for his participation. O'Hearn jumped at the chance.
"We live in different times than we did 30 years ago," added O'Hearn. "A lot of people still care [about Deanie Peters] all these years later."
The group's ultimate goal is to inspire someone to reveal the location of Deanie's final resting place, giving her family, friends and the community the closure they've sought for more than three decades.
"She didn't wander off; she was murdered," said Dell Todd, a classmate and friend of Deanie's at Forest Hills Central Middle School. "The story of Deanie is really about darkness. The conversation died along with her in the dark. This art is about the light; its about rekindling the conversation. The light shines a beam of justice for Deanie's story."
"If nobody cared, there would be no conversation," added Todd.
The unveiling event marked the culmination of more than a year of the Facebook group's hard work, recruiting hundreds of new followers who offer fresh perspectives on the case, sparking long lost memories that are proving very helpful.
"[My sister's disappearance was] very confusing for my family," said William Peters, who was 6-years old at the time his sister, Deanie, disappeared. "All we did was wait and we got no answers."
William says he's excited to see if this art piece can help deliver closure to his family after more than three decades, and he's thrilled with the recent outpouring of support the West Michigan community is offering to help end this mystery.
"I think somebody definitely knows what happened to my sister, and where she is," added Peters. "I haven't lived here [in Grand Rapids] for years, but I honestly thought that by now my sister's case would be another file that would sit in the police department. I had no idea that this community still the same way that my family does, that there's no answer, and we want the answer."
The "Deanie Art" exhibit will be on display at C.O.D.A. Art Gallery (44 S. Division) through ArtPrize 2012.
By Brent Ashcroft