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Salon Meritage Hero and Stylist to Hold Beach Wedding

He was the hero who confronted the shooter and treated victims. She was a stylist who lost several friends in the massacre. They met at a funeral, and on Saturday they will wed in Seal Beach ceremony.

He may be the hero, but she is the one who rescued him.

They met at a funeral. It was his seventh funeral that week and day four of a drinking binge ― his attempt to quell the nightmares.

In the days that followed, he would become known as the hero of the Salon Meritage shootings, where nine people were shot and eight were killed on Oct. 12 in Seal Beach. But on this day, as he attended two funerals, he felt more lost than heroic.

It was her fifth funeral that week. A former stylist at Salon Meritage, she lost several friends in the massacre.

She had seen him at all the funerals but didn’t know who he was, and she spent the week working up the courage to meet him. They were at a cloudy morning memorial service for hair stylist Laura Webb Elody, and Elody’s family called on the crowd of hundreds not to be overcome with hatred or anger because of the tragedy. The crowd held hands and shouted, “Love is louder.”
With the chant hanging in the air, Tammy Hetzel introduced herself to Doug Childers.

For the second time in a week, their lives were forever changed.

They have been together every day since and will marry Saturday in a small beachfront ceremony in front of 20 friends and family in Seal Beach.

‘She saved me’

Though tragedy brought them together, theirs is a love story.

She noticed him first.

“I thought he was hot,” laughs Hetzel. “It was my mission in life to give him my card. I prayed and prayed and prayed about it. Finally it was the last (funeral), and I went up to him. I was totally nervous. But then when I talked to him, it was easy.”

After Hetzel walked away, her friend teased Childers, telling him, “I see you met your future wife.”

“He called me before I even got home,” said Hetzel.

A friend had introduced the two under the pretense that Childers, a construction worker and former hair stylist could help out Hetzel, who owns Hair Therapy Salon on Katella Avenue.

“We talked about me helping out at the salon, but that never happened,” said Childers. “Instead we met for coffee at Starbucks ― that became our spot.”

“We talked for two and a half hours that first day, and I think I’ve seen him every day since,” added Hetzel.

A recovered alcoholic, Hetzel understood how Chidlers was using alcohol to suppress his pain. She helped pull him back from the edge, and she was the one person who never pressed him for the details of the salon shooting, said Childers.

“She saved me.”

The nightmares

On the day of the shooting Childers was working at a nearby construction site. A former marine, he recognized the sound of a “double tap,” two shots fired in succession, two shots aimed to kill.

Childers and his coworkers John Gallegos, Mike Sauerwein, Brendan Peña and Mark Mason didn’t hesitate to rush toward the gunfire.

Childers ran straight toward the salon and came face to face with alleged shooter Scott Dekraai as he walked away from the massacre, gun still in hand.

“Scott pointed the gun at me. He thought about it,” Childers recalled after the shooting. “I didn’t stop. I just kept going. He brought the gun down and turned toward his truck.”

According to police, Dekraai had just shot eight stylists and customers inside the salon, killing seven people because he was enraged over a custody dispute with his ex-wife, a stylist at the salon. After the encounter with Childers, Dekraai shot and killed another man in the parking lot before fleeing in his truck, according to police.

Childers and his co-workers directed police toward Dekraai’s fleeing truck and ran into the salon and tried to save the wounded. Eight of the nine shooting victims died that day. Childers carried their last words to their loved ones.

The nightmares started immediately after.

“The last one that I had. I was staring at him, and he pulled the trigger, and I felt the impact, and I felt myself going to the ground, and everything went black,” said Childers. “It was like I was in their shoes. It was like it happened to me.

“I was on a quick downhill run ― A lot of drinking. I had the nightmares, so I would drink more. After we started hanging out, the nightmares sort of stopped, didn’t they?” Childers asked Hetzel as they sat outside Bogart’s Coffee overlooking the Seal Beach pier on a recent afternoon. “I had two in one night, and that was it.

“I had been having them every night, and then they just stopped. Just by being there she pretty much stopped them,” said Childers. “I think I loved her from day one. I can relax with her. She makes me laugh.”

We Found Love in a Hopeless Place

At first, Hetzel worried that a relationship born of such tragedy and intensity couldn’t last.

“But a couple of weeks into dating him, I thought he was the one for me,” said Hetzel. “I have so much respect for him. He’s everything I could ever want in a husband.”

It didn’t take long for friends and family to realize the two were serious about one another. And their families grew in ways they never expected.

In the days and weeks after the shooting, the couple grew close to the people who lost loved ones that day. They have been invited to weddings and on family vacations.

And at Saturday afternoon’s small ceremony at the beach near the First Street jetty, the brother of shooting victim Michele Fast will be Childers' best man.

The ceremony will be casual and open to the public. A friend will sing their song, Rhiana’s ‘We Found Love in a Hopeless Place.’

Because the wedding is at a public park, the couple is only permitted to invite a small group of people, but they are happy to share their day with the community, said Childers

The pair knows their story is meaningful to many who were touched by the tragedy. They know their union is part of the proof that love is louder.

Doug Childers September 23, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Thank you Paige for sharing our story
Teri Howland September 23, 2012 at 01:44 PM
This is a beautiful story, borne of such an awful tragedy. Thank you for sharing it with your readers!
Laura Walker Ellsworth September 23, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Tammy and Doug are two of the most caring people and kind people that I know and I am very proud to call them friends. When I met them I thought they were together for ever. They were just simply meant to be. Tammy, thank you for saving Doug. You both are amazing. You know I will be there to witness the moment when two become one.
Karen Ferretti September 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM
What a sweet story, and proof that healing can occur from a tragedy. This gives me hope about all things being possible.
Mary Stearns September 23, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Good luck to you both. Something good has come out of something very bad. Hoping the nightmares diminish, and the happy new memories you build will replace the horror of that day. Mary Stearns
Nancy Wride (Editor) September 23, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I love this tale. Love is louder, indeed. Whose with me?
Doug Childers September 23, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Love is louder
Panglonymous September 23, 2012 at 09:46 PM
"Green shoots." Congrats! :-) http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01962/green-shoots_1962518b.jpg
Gidget in Seal Beach September 23, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Although I don't personally know the both of you, I recognize love. Wishing you all the happiness life has to offer. Cherish and nourish what you have. Congratulations! Gidget in Seal Beach
B H September 24, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Amazing I am touched by the story of love finding it's way
Kathy September 24, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Thanks and Good Luck Great looking Couple
darel talbot September 24, 2012 at 03:12 PM
What a miracle your love story is, thank you for sharing it. Here is wishing you every happiness, you both deserve it.
Dana Buchanan September 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM
beautiful
MarieSam Sanchez September 26, 2012 at 10:31 PM
In every tragedy there is always a glimmer of hope that finds its way through. Doug + Tammy thanks for letting me capture the special love you share in these photos. I wish you both nothing but the best that love and life have to offer! ~ MarieSam
Nancy Wride (Editor) September 26, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Love is louder, still loving that phrase.
Maura Hudson September 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Out of tragedy, a wonderful story of hope. A thousand years of happiness to you both. Love is loudest!
mommabear September 28, 2012 at 01:15 AM
It is apparent these 2 are in love.Their story brought tears to my eyes.I am glad something beautiful was able to come from something so tragic.Good Luck and many happy years together wished for you<3
suzanne ryan September 28, 2012 at 08:10 AM
I am a 4th generation of Seal Beach, my grandfather was born in one of the small, still standing bungalows, across from the salon, next to the church. Anyone that grew up here, always had that feeling of a safe happy place! Until Oct 12th. This love story is so amazing and beautiful! Its as if those who lost their lives. are sending a message, that love never dies!

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