On October 12th, I walked out of my local CVS drugstore and suddenly had a strange gut feeling. I had no idea why, but found myself scanning the parking lot for anything amiss. I took a different way home. Drove a block and still didn’t feel right, so I took side streets back toward my place. Two blocks later, I saw two cop cars blocking another side street. I drove slowly passed them and witnessed two police officers cuff a big, hulking man and pull him away.
I presumed there was a bank robbery since it was a block away from Bank of America. When I got to the other end of the street, it was blocked off by a parking-enforcement truck. The officers looked visibly shaken and prepared to leave as they waited for two more cop cars from neighboring Los Alamitos to speed by. I made it across the street, parking in my carport, and chatted with my neighbors on the corner. We were grinning and in disbelief at the number of blaring sirens we heard in our small town.
I went inside and posted on Facebook, “Anybody have any idea what's going on in Old Town Seal Beach?!! I've never seen so many cops or heard so many sirens in the 20 years I've lived here. Plus, the Los Al Police are here in force too.”
Ten minutes later, I got a call from a friend who heard from someone at Patty’s Place that two people had been shot at the Salon Meritage and there might be another shooter. I immediately called my friends with businesses on Main St. to tell them to lock their back doors. I heard helicopters overhead and presumed it was the police looking for another shooter.
My sister, Jane, called from Long Beach to see if I was okay. Her friend, Nancy, was concerned about me and heard on the news that six people had been shot. I called my Dad back in Boston to let him know I was okay. The rest of the afternoon, it was a volley of calls to and from friends and clients, checking in. It was unsettling to think of the people who didn’t make it. And what might have happened without the quick actions of the Seal Beach Police Department. If they had not caught him so quickly, I surely would’ve crossed paths with him. He was headed for the street I was on to pick up his 8-year old son at the elementary school a half-mile away. Who knows how many more people he would’ve shot if he’d had the opportunity. The sounds of a half dozen news and police helicopters continued overhead until dark.
In a couple of minutes, this shooter took the lives of eight wonderful people – Michelle Fournier, Randy Fannin, Laura Webb, Michele Fast, Dave Caouette, Victoria Buzzo, Lucia Kondas, and Christy Wilson. They had busy, full lives and loved ones who depended on them. The Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce set up a fund to assist their families.
Their loss is such a shock to all of us. Our tight-knit town is collectively mourning and doing everything it can help their families. It is estimated that 4,000-5,000 turned out for the vigil the following evening. Grief counselors have been called out to talk kids of all ages in schools.
In a town of 25,000 people, we lost more lives in this incident proportionally than New York did on 9/11. I didn’t know any of them personally, yet all of their faces looked so familiar to me. I know I’ve swam with Michele at the McGaugh pool. I’ve exchanged hellos with Dave many times on Main St. I’ve seen Laura at Nick’s Deli and Lucia at Café Lafayette. In a town this small, we all know someone who knew them. We all know someone who was within earshot of the crime. (One of my friends was annoyed because she thought it was CSI filming around the corner that day.) We all know someone who was with their loved ones or friends when they heard the news of their loss. We all know someone who had a close call and for one reason or another didn’t make it to the Salon Meritage that day. We all ache for those who lost their lives that day.
You can feel it as you walk around town. People have let down their normal polite facade. Everyone is a little more tender with each other. The empathy is palpable. In some ways, it's still sinking in. Whether we knew them personally or not, we know we lost some of our own. People who loved this town and everything in it – just like we do. They enjoyed walking on the pier at sunset. They enjoyed the simple pleasures of coffee at La Crema, lemony chicken soup at Café Lafayette, a glass of wine at the bar at Walt’s Wharf. They looked forward to our little Christmas Parade each year like little kids. It is, indeed, a Mayberry by the sea.