Andrea Cortes loved her four little nieces, and still struggles with their deaths last year in a blaze that took the lives of an entire Nebraska family.

But now when Cortes looks at her left arm she has a wonderful reminder of the girls.

It’s a tattoo with the names of the three oldest — in their own handwriting — and a drawing by the youngest.

“It helps me,’’ said Cortes, 24, who lives in Omaha. “It’s part of healing. I get to look down and see their names and artwork.”

Killed in the October fire in rural Nehawka were Mike and Michelle Speer, both 36, and the four girls: Elli, 11; Adilynn, 7; Emma, 5; and Anniston, 2.

Ann Gentle, a close friend who gave the eulogy at the family’s funeral, said Michelle and Mike Speer would appreciate the tattoo. Michelle Speer had four pink stars tattooed on the back of her neck representing her daughters.

“It was a way of displaying her commitment to her children,” Gentle said.

Cortes, who is Michelle Speer’s sister, found schoolwork with the names of the three oldest girls in their handwriting. She had a tattoo artist trace the names on her arm two weeks ago.

But her arm felt “naked,” she said, because she was missing something that represented Anniston, the youngest, who couldn’t write her name yet.

Then she had an idea.

While looking through old emails, Cortes came across one from Michelle. The email contained a photo of Anniston standing next to a drawing she’d made on the wall.

Cortes recalled that Michelle was working from home one day, and while she was on a conference call, Anniston kept trying to get her attention, saying “Mommy” over and over.

Turned out that the toddler wanted to show her mom a drawing she had just made on the wall. When the conference call was over, Michelle emailed a photo of the drawing to everyone she’d been talking with: “For those of you who could hear my sweet little Anniston on the call. ... Thought you may like to know what she was trying to show me.”

Cortes had the drawing tattooed on her arm last week.

Getting tattooed is a little painful, she said, but the tribute to her nieces was worth it.

Some people think the drawing looks like a flamingo. Cortes thinks it looks like a giraffe, which the little girl would have spotted on trips with her aunt to the zoo.

All Cortes knows for sure is that it’s the creative and squiggly lines of a little girl proud to show them off to her mom.

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