An 8-year-old boy went to school at McGaugh Elementary on Wednesday, but no one picked him up. His mother was shot that afternoon -- and his father was the alleged gunman, accused of killing her and seven others at Seal Beach’s Salon Meritage in Orange County’s deadliest-ever mass murder.
Another salon employee was forced to step past her fallen colleagues after being trapped in the bathroom as bullets ripped through the wall, blood leaked under the door and screams told her what was happening to her friends.
A 73-year-old woman battled to survive two gunshot wounds after the melee, learning from her family that her daughter didn’t survive the attack.
And a Seal Beach man lost his wife because she had an appointment at a hair salon where a gunman opened fire.
The , but it changed Seal Beach. At a candlelight vigil Thursday night, thousands gathered for their first opportunity to mourn as a community. They found comfort through hugs, tears and hopes that Seal Beach would eventually regain its sense of security.
“This is our 9/11. We feel like we’ve been attacked,” said resident Erik Dreyer-Goldman. “Nothing feels right. Everything feels changed.”
Those who died Wednesday afternoon woke up that morning like everyone else, expecting an honest day's work or perhaps,, a chance to do something they were passionate about, said Seal Beach police Chaplain Don Shoemaker.
On Thursday night, as candles flickered and TV cameras rolled, Shoemaker spoke to thousands of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in their honor.
"We've all heard the expression 'wrong place at the wrong time,' but what if you're right where you're supposed to be?" Shoemaker asked.
When the shooter attacked, he left "the rest us of to grieve and pick up the pieces of shattered lives." The task now is to support friends, family and co-workers of the victims, Shoemaker added.
Many local leaders hailed Thursday's gathering, held in the business park off 5th Street and Marina Drive, as the first step in that healing process.
The vigil also ignited a sense of unity, with Esther Kenyon, a Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce board member, asserting: "Mayberry is alive and well."
The declaration drew boisterous cheers from the crowd, which was clustered around a .
Earlier in the evening, a prayer gathering at the Seal Beach Center for Spiritual Living drew a smaller turnout of about 200. There, Rev. James Peak of the Namaste Center for Spiritual Living told mourners there were no answers to Wednesday's killings.
Many in attendance said they were determined not to let the massacre rob them of their sense of security and community.
"As we walk around this beautiful city of Seal Beach ... take a moment to share a smile, to share a hug, to share a kind word," beseeched Rev. Peggy Price.
Nine bells were rung and nine candles lighted in honor of : Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47; Michelle Marie Fournier, 48; Michelle Daschbach Fast, 47; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody; 46, and David Caouette, 64.
Hattie Stretz, 73, was the lone gunshot victim to survive the night. Friends said doctors expect her to pull through. Although her path to recovery might be long, the community has rallied around her as a symbol of hope Seal Beach can heal too.