Eric Heisig / Houma Courier
Garrett Velasquez, 18, had some growing up to do, his mother, Karen Gros, admits.
He dropped out of Thibodaux High School during his senior year and rarely stayed interested in one subject. He was struggling to find his way in life, she said.
Art was the one thing that captured and kept Velasquez's attention, his photographer mother said, and he had a talent for it.
That talent was lost Monday after Velasquez crashed his Honda Accord into a tree along Crescent Boulevard in Houma.
His family is calling it a suicide. Police say that appears to be the case, but the investigation is ongoing.
Velasquez was driving about 70 mph on a road with a 25-mph speed limit, witnesses said, and never applied the brakes.
Gros, 43, said she knew her son was a talented artist but says she didn't know others thought of him that way until after he was gone.
“If only he knew,” she said, leaving unsaid the thought that might have provided the spark to keep him from taking his life.
In the days leading to the wreck, Gros said, there were signs something was wrong.
Velasquez left his mother's Summerfield house at 1 p.m. Monday. Within a few hours, his mother said, she became concerned, as he had a doctor's appointment and wasn't supposed to be gone for long.
She later saw the picture of Velasquez's wrecked car on The Courier and Daily Comet's websites. The story didn't identify Garrett, but Gros said she was almost positive it was his car.
There's no one reason he might have taken his own life, Gros said, explaining that the angst most teens deal with was amplified in Garrett's world.
Velasquez is from an artistic family. Gros is a classically trained pianist, as is Garrett's sister, 21-year-old Emilee Velasquez.
Garrett played the drums, a skill he helped teach his half-brother, 11-year-old Cooper Gros. His father, Bobby Velasquez, is also artistic, but he never pursued it, Gros said.
Emilee encouraged her brother's love of art, said Tami Charbonnet, who owns the Seion Gallery of Fine Art in Houma. Emilee recommended that the gallery owner get him to help design a new urban-art room.
“He would work all day. He would be in this zone. It was inspiring,” Charbonnet said, adding that it took the teen about two months to finish his work.
In June, the siblings' art was featured in the gallery's opening. Garrett's wall is filled with vivid colors and images of animals.
“This was the catalyst that gave him the confidence,” Charbonnet, 37, said.
After Hurricane Gustav in 2008, Gros said, her son started practicing graffiti art on plywood with spray paint he got his mother to buy.
“He was always mischievous,” Gros said. “I asked him ‘What are you going to do with spray paint?' ”
His interest grew from there, and his mother said he often practiced on cracked skateboards. Garrett would sometimes make a mess, his mother said, but she didn't know how devoted he was to his craft.
“I'm seeing now that this was his passion,” Gros said.
Garrett created a mural on the wall of the now-defunct Houma Bowl Lanes in Gray. The work was featured in a video by local rapper Co-Ruff.
City Club of Houma owner Mike Fesi Jr. said Garrett was creating art for the second floor of the downtown Houma building.
He had several pieces on display at this month's Art After Dark festival, a twice-a-year event that showcases local artists' work in storefronts throughout downtown Houma.
His artistic success was recent and came fast.
Gros said she knew her son had problems. While he earned his GED after dropping out of Thibodaux High, Garrett would stay at people's homes for long periods, splitting his time among New Orleans, Thibodaux and Houma.
“He had problems conforming,” Gros said.
Emilee, who said she would often work with her brother on art projects, said Garrett could be unreliable. Still, the pair had become close in the past few years, often driving around blasting dance music from their car.
Recently, family members said, his art had taken a darker tone. There are pieces that Gros said she had trouble looking at, since she now believes he was expressing some of his anguish.
“It's been years since we have seen a really happy, genuine Garrett,” Gros said.
Wednesday evening, Garrett's artist page on Facebook had 1,300 followers, up by about 900 fans from the day before.
Charbonnet, who is grateful to have given him the chance to express himself, said Garrett's death is a waste of an artist with so much potential.
“He told me ‘Things are happening. I feel like I have a future,'” Charbonnet said. “He felt so good about it.”