The 15-year-old boy whose winning city sticker design has been pulled over gang concerns says in a sobbing interview that officials were wrong about his artwork and their decision is unfair.


“I don’t think that’s fair. I tried the best I could,” the boy told WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce, crying throughout the interview as he sat on a couch in his home with his mother. “That art design has nothing to do with no gangs. Nothing. No violence, no nothing.
“I did the best I can,” he continued. “I don’t know why they smashed me like that.”

Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza  announced Wednesday that she was scrapping the boy’s design for this year’s city sticker because hands were drawn in a way that some experts associated with a notorious street gang symbol.

It didn’t matter whether the boy meant to include gang signs in his drawing honoring Chicago police, firefighters and paramedics, said a city clerk serving her first year in office. She couldn’t risk having stickers that go on more than 1 million vehicles becoming contentious.

“For me, as the clerk, it’s not an issue of the individual at all, frankly,” Mendoza said. “It’s an issue of the perception that’s now out in the city of Chicago and, frankly, nationally, that we have a city sticker that some experts believe may provide symbolism related to gangs.”

Last week, Mendoza hailed the teen as a “rock star” who would see his life positively affected by winning the design contest. On Wednesday, the boy was left in tears, denying that his drawing depicted any gang symbols and calling it unfair that his winning entry was withdrawn after hard work by him, his mother and teacher.

“Nobody should be putting down that picture. It’s wrong,” the teen told WGN-TV. The Tribune is not naming the boy because he is a minor.

In less than 24 hours, the teen’s sticker was felled by a cop blog with a dirty name and a Facebook page that left some questions about the winner. On Tuesday afternoon, the blog pointed out what the writer saw as similarities between hands the boy drew into his sticker and a hand sign associated with a gang. By Tuesday evening, Mendoza said she was looking into the matter.

The clerk consulted with Jody Weis, former police superintendent who is now president of the Chicago Crime Commission, which recently released its annual manual about Chicago street gangs.

Appearing with Mendoza at a hastily called news conference Wednesday afternoon, Weis said the sticker’s possible gang links went beyond the way the hands were positioned. The use of a heart as a central motif in the drawing, and the placement of the hands atop the heart like horns, also pointed toward images associated with a particular gang, he said.

Weis said he also looked at the Facebook pictures before recommending the boy’s design be scrapped.

“When you take in the totality of the circumstances, you look at this artwork, you look at his Facebook page … you see images on there that are suggestive that this could be in reference to a particular gang,” Weis said.

“A lot of kids will boast, they want to sound tough on (Facebook),” Weis said. “The problem is, this is a good lesson that sometimes social media will get you in trouble. You’ve got to be careful what you post on there.”

But the boy’s mother, speaking to reporters Wednesday at Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a North Side school for at-risk children her son attends, said any gang imagery is coincidence.

Jessica Loor fought back tears as she defended her son’s artwork, calling the accusations that he disguised gang symbols in his drawing “a bunch of nonsense being blown out of proportion.”

As Loor sat beside an attorney representing the family, she told reporters she helped her son with the project, hoping it would be a valuable lesson.

“I came up with the idea of the heart because I feel that it’s to show love to our Chicago heroes. And the hands are the helping hands of Chicago,” she said of the two symbols that drew the strongest gang inferences. “And in no way, (shape or) form does anything in that picture have anything to do with gang affiliation, gang symbols.”

When the 15-year-old was named the winner of the sticker art contest Feb. 2, the excited boy gushed about his achievement.

“I’m really happy because nobody really recognized me, and I wanted attention, and now I’ve got that,” he said to applause and laughter from other contest participants.

The boy said he hoped to become an architect so he could leave his mark on Chicago. And he recalled that Chicago firefighters saved his life when he burned himself badly at age 4, saying he wanted to honor them with his design.

Mendoza said overturning the teen’s victory weighed heavily on her. “Frankly, we had a lot of tears in that office having to make this decision,” she said, pausing to collect herself.

The clerk said she has not decided whether to revoke the $1,000 bond the teen won for coming out tops in the annual voting. Judges chose his design to be a top 10 finalist from among more than 200 entries. It then received 2,831 online votes at

Caitlin Henehan, a Resurrection High School senior, designed the sticker that will now be used. It depicts a firefighter, police officer and paramedic as superheroes and was vetted by gang experts.

“I thought his design was really good,” said Henehan, who called it “unbelievable” that she’s now the winner. “I feel really badly for him.”

Mendoza said she hopes to forge a relationship with the boy “if he still wants to speak to me.”

“I hope that I can somehow maybe reach this kid, just through a different medium than the city sticker at this point,” she said.