Caitlin Henehan's runner-up design depicts a firefighter, police officer and paramedic as super heroes.
City officials said Wednesday that the upcoming city vehicle sticker would not go to print after a controversy brewed that the winning design may contain symbolism associated with a notorious street gang.
Windshields will instead by adorned with a design created by Caitlin Henehan, a senior at Resurrection High School, who was the the first runner-up of the design contest.
"We will never know the intent, but we have to look at the perception," said former police Supt. Jody Weis, who now heads the Chicago Crime Commission. He said the sticker was "very suggestive of a particular gang."
Weis spent the day discussing the matter with Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, whose office sponsored the contest and issues the stickers.
She called the situation "disheartening," and said she plans to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with the sticker's designer, 15-year-old Lawrence Hall Youth Services student Herbert Pulgar.
"Many of them do come from troubled pasts, and that's what's so disheartening about this whole situation is that this individual could very likely be a representation of a lot of kids who are troubled and are trying to get their act together," said Mendoza.
Mendoza said a decision hadn't yet been made as to whether to revoke the $1,000 bond Pulgar has yet to receive. Nor has a decision been made as to whether Henehan will receive a similar award.
"We are reviewing what to do," said Chicago City Clerk spokeswoman Kristine Williams.
More than 18,000 people voted for Pulgar's winning design, which features the Chicago skyline, the city flag and outstretched hands.
When the sticker was chosen, Pulgar told NBC Chicago on "The Talk" that he created the design to thank everyone who helped him during a tragic incident more than 10 years ago. When he was 4 years old, he said his clothes caught on fire when he was playing with a candle.
"The paramedics came and they saved my life," Pulgar said, "and I'm thankful for that, and this is how I can repay them."
Some police sources and police blogs said the design resembles the signs often flashed by Maniac Latin Disciples, along with other iconography.
Pulgar's art teacher, Janice Gould, disagrees. Gould showed NBC Chicago the picture the boy used as his guide for the hands. He drew a near-exact replica of a "reaching for the stars" photo included in the teacher's "hands" booklet she gives to kids.
Gould said she wanted to teach Pulgar to believe in himself. "This has undone that," she said.
At a press conference hours before Mendoza's decision was announced, Pulgar's mother was adamant her son had never been affiliated with a gang.
"I am very upset. I feel very upset that something so positive could be so negative," Jessica Loor told reporters, adding that she and her son had been up all night worrying about the controversy.
"'I was trying to do something positive,'" she said her son told her. "'But everybody’s just kicking me down.'"
The upcoming design is the first sticker to bear Mayor Rahm Emanuel's name. Mendoza said the competition for the unnual design will continue, but said no determination has been made on how the sticker selection will be vetted in the future.
The 2012-2013 sticker goes to the printer later this week or early next week, NBC Chicago was told, and the change in design isn't expected to delay the process.