A memorial is slowly replacing caution tape at the site of a deadly shooting that left eight dead and one wounded in Seal Beach on Wednesday.
Outside the Salon Meritage colorful bouquets, balloons and sunflowers mark the spot where accused gunman Scott Dekraai, apparently targeting his hair stylist ex-wife, shot nine people. Construction workers Erik Paulsen and Ricky Sanchez were across the street when the mayhem erupted.
"When I came out people were running through the parking lot screaming," said Paulsen. "It was pretty hectic."
Sanchez described the situation as "surreal," before adding, "It's still kind of surreal. A bunch of ladies laying down on the floor, you know?"
Sgt. Steve Bowles said Thursday that the sole survivor, 73-year-old Hattie Stretz, was showing some signs of improvement. The Los Angeles Times reports her daughter, Laura Webb, is among the dead.
Webb worked as a hair stylist at the salon. Community members compared Stretz to Mother Teresa, according to the Times. "We are shocked and heartbroken," Lina Lumme told the Times. "These are truly wonderful people, full of compassion and young at heart. Always giving, giving, giving."
At a press conference Thursday Seal Beach Mayor Pro Tem Gary Miller said he was proud of and thankful for the quick response of law enforcement officials who caught the gunman. He said the focus of the community should now shift towards coming together to grapple with the shattering experience.
"Our community experienced the biggest tragedy in the history of our city," said Seal Beach acting police chief Tim Olson. This was "not a random act of violence, the suspect knew his intended victim." he said.
Jerry Roman passes the salon on his daily bike ride from Garden Grove to Seal Beach, and this day stopped to pay his respects.
"Lives were changed yesterday," he said. "There were uncles aunts, fathers mothers, so many lives were affected yesterday because of this one man. It's going to take a long time. A long time."
Black plastic bags now cover the windows of the salon where local resident Janet Tadesco used to have her hair done. She wept and shook as she talked about her hairdresser, saying no one could tell her if she survived. Her stylist worked Wednesdays, she said.
A Facebook page has been set up to remember those lost in the shooting.
The memorial began last night as community members rallied to remember those who were lost. Nancy Keller works at a restaurant in the same shopping center as the salon, and brought 12 battery-operated tea lights to where someone had placed a flower and a card.
“So we figured at least 12 people were affected, or more, I just didn’t have that many candles — and just to do something when you’re helpless. And maybe a family member or somebody will drive by and make them feel better," she said.
Kim Criswell, who owns a Seal Beach salon a few doors down from where the shooting took place, said she told her workers to hide in the bathroom and lock the door as soon as she heard shots. She said the rampage has rocked the tight-knit beachside city.
"Some of the employees there have young children. They’re mothers and fathers, and they go to school in this community," said Criswell. "The alleged shooter has a child that goes to my son’s school."
The area where the shootings took place is dotted with salons, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques clustered just blocks from a beach and pier popular with teenagers and young families. Many residents live and work within walking distance of the ocean and many businesses cater to Leisure World, a gated retirement community a few miles away that is home to 9,000 people.
Ron Sesler was working the lunch rush at his steakhouse when he heard a rapid 'pop, pop, pop' sound that he at first thought was construction noise.
But when a frantic woman burst through the restaurant and into the kitchen, screaming "'They're shooting people, they're shooting people!" he knew it wasn't jackhammers.
Over the next nightmarish minutes, Sesler watched as hairstylists and customers from the salon streamed into his restaurant seeking refuge from the largest mass shooting in Orange County history. Hysterical stylists still wearing their smocks with hair clips in the pockets and customers halfway through dye jobs and perms piled inside as Sesler locked the door and his wife frantically dialed 911. Police soon showed up and used the restaurant as a temporary base to interview witnesses.
"The whole place was filled, it was whoever survived," said Sesler, 68, still noticeably shaken on Thursday as he tried to resume business as usual.
The sole victim shot outside of the salon was a regular at the restaurant and a good friend of Sesler. He happened to park directly next to the gunman and was shot while sitting in his car talking on his cell phone, Sesler said.
"He just happened to park right beside the shooter. I saw him sitting there bleeding before they took him away," he said. "He randomly missed it by three or four minutes either way. If he was late, the guy would have driven away. If he was early, he would have been in here (eating lunch)."
The witnesses who gathered in Sesler's restaurant, many of them longtime friends, said Dekraai first took aim at the salon owner, Randy Fannin, and shot him once in the head and then turned to his own ex-wife, shooting her three times. Fannin's wife, Sandy, escaped only because she was in the back, possibly mixing hair dye, Sesler said.
A masseuse hid in the massage room with two others and locked the door. Two more hid in the bathroom, Sesler said, according to accounts from people who were interviewed by police inside his restaurant in the immediate aftermath.
"They were hiding and calling 911 while the shooting was going on. They all came in here," he said. "If you were there, you were either shot or hiding."
Many residents believe the shooting will change the face of the community, where people typically feel safe and even leave the doors to their homes unlocked. One resident who has lived in the area for over 35 years said the neighborhood has become gentrified and as a result, which has lulled many people into complacency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated.