Smoke billowed from behind a yellow protective screen, and the sharp sounds and smells of a circular saw piercing metal followed.

Behind the curtain stood a Centaurus High School student and local metal artists who were preparing for a collaborative community art project resulting in the construction of a metal sculpture made out of a unique building material: guns.

Seniors at Centaurus High School in Lafayette decided to research gun violence for their political action class not long after the December 2012 Sandy Hook shootings.

They tracked gun-related deaths in the United States after that incident until the end of 2013 and found 12,400 gun-related deaths reported.

After sorting the victims by age, race, location and gender, the students were humbled by the diverse impact guns had on their country. They decided to enlist the help of local artist Jessica Adams of Living Design Studios and her crew to erect a memorial in the victims' honor using surrendered guns already due for destruction, provided by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.

"We figured what better way to bring awareness to the issue than build a memorial for those who died where people walk by it every day and think, 'What is this about?'" said student Kenny Sweetnam, 18.

Sheila Dierks, priest at the Light of Christ Ecumenical Catholic Church and a member of Boulder's Interfaith Council, also became involved in the students' projects after she and other members of the council felt compelled to combat gun violence with peace in the form of art.


"By transforming these guns into art, we're giving less power to the gun and more to the power of change we hope to see," Dierks said.

The sculpture is planned to be a representation of the 12,400 victims, with a metal rod designed for each.

"The taller the rod, the younger the victim," Adams said. "A newborn would have a 10-foot rod, and it drops a foot for every decade to show the full extent of the unlived lives these people had."

The location of the sculpture is yet to be determined, and it's estimated that the project will take a year or so to complete.

In addition to the research students have done, they are also participating in disarming the surrendered guns — a process normally handled by the Sheriff's Office. With supervision, students suited up and began strategically sawing into the weapons, ensuring the guns would never function again. Instead of leaving them destroyed and useless, as they would normally be, they will be incorporated into the sculpture, Adams said.

"It feels pretty good that we're actually doing something," Sweetnam said. "I'm just hoping we find a nice resting spot for the sculpture where people can stop and think about the message."