The Seal Beach Massacre – One Year Later

The Seal Beach massacre, which took place a year ago this week, was, for me, more than just an act of violence seen on the news. It was more than another story told by reporters and anchorwomen. The Seal Beach massacre took place at my hair salon, Salon Meritage, where I had been going for ten years to see Gordon, my stylist of sixteen years, and my close friend.

It was just by chance that my appointment was scheduled for Thursday October 13 and not Wednesday, October 12, the day 8 people were killed at Salon Meritage. For the past 16 years, every four weeks, I have been going to Gordon on a Wednesday or Thursday, when the salon wasn’t as crowded and he wasn’t as busy, so we could have some time together to talk and catch up. Gordon is not just a hairstylist to me – he is an important person in my and my family’s lives. He has cut (and later colored) my daughter’s hair since she was 8 years old. He attended both of my children’s B’nai Mitzvot. He has spent holidays with us and celebrated birthdays with us. Just two days before the massacre, a friend and I had taken him out to dinner to try and cheer him up after his relationship of ten years ended abruptly. I adore Gordon.
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I was napping when the shooting happened. I had taken the phone off the hook so my house would be quiet. When I turned the phone on and heard the many messages that had come in during my twenty minute break, I turned on the news. I called my husband, I called Laurie and Jodi and Ellen and Gail. We all called our children. Gordon does all of our hair. Our first thoughts were, of course, where is Gordon? Where is he? Is he dead? Is he safe? Then the frantic phone calls began to anyone we could think of who might know something, until someone was able to confirm that Gordon was ok. In the end, he would lose five long-term and beloved friends among the eight people that were killed that day. Those people were his family.

Here’s what happens when a crisis of this magnitude occurs – you go into shock, a little bit. You drive by the place, seeing the hundreds of flowers and notes and candles, the stunned mourners and community members milling about. Two days after it happens, you gather with Gordon and your friends. You listen in horror as he tells the entire story of the shooting, from start to finish. There is no way to explain how sad you feel. We all go home and spend the weekend crying, then going numb, and repeating over and over, “I can’t believe this happened.” You remember the five people who worked at the salon – Randy, Christy, Michelle, Laura and Victoria- and grieve. You feel such sorrow for the three others who were killed, just because they were there. But most of all, you worry about Gordon, because how can his life possibly ever be the same?

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Seal Beach Pier

The town of Seal Beach is moving past the massacre, as it should. For the people who live in this – and neighboring- communities, it was a vicious attack on the quiet little place they call home. Nearly everyone knew someone connected to the salon. For me, going to Salon Meritage was always an hour or so to look forward to – time with Gordon, the friendly familiar faces, the relaxing and restorative process of getting my hair cut and colored. I loved going there. And now I go to see Gordon at his new salon, and we have our time together. I would follow him anywhere.

Those of us that love Gordon are reminded every time we see him of the ravages of violence on those who survive such terrible acts – the difficulty of being a survivor. Gordon has created on his arm a living, tattooed memorial to his friends and former workplace. There is a daily battle for Gordon to find peace inside himself, to find a sense of calm and safety. For him, every single thing about his life is different than it was just a year ago.

I mourn the victims of the shooting on this terrible anniversary. And I hope for Gordon to find peace of mind, and for his life to feel familiar again.

Gordon’s arm, a living memorial

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52 Responses to The Seal Beach Massacre – One Year Later
  1. Ginger Kay
    October 8, 2012 | 7:35 am

    How terrible! It is hard to imagine ever feeling safe afterwards. My prayers are with Gordon today.
    Ginger Kay recently posted..I won’t inspire you.My Profile

  2. Jennifer
    October 8, 2012 | 7:35 am

    Oh, I can’t believe this. I mean…I do believe it, obviously. But it’s so sad and awful. This is the sort of event that gives people PTSD even if they weren’t there at the time (like you, with your appointment a day later). Hope you’re doing alright, and Gordon too.
    Jennifer recently posted..W Union Square Hotel in New York CityMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 7:47 am

      There is a lingering sense of discomfort for me at times when entering any crowded place.

  3. Janie Emaus
    October 8, 2012 | 7:39 am

    Thisis a beautiful tribute and a reminder to all of us how suddenly life can change.

  4. Anne
    October 8, 2012 | 7:45 am

    Sharon, I am so sorry. For you, for Gordon, and for the people of your town. My most sincere condolences.
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    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 7:47 am

      Thank you Anne. Gordon is amazing and he is making great progress!

  5. Kristi Woodworth
    October 8, 2012 | 8:30 am

    Sharon, I know only too well how horrific events like this can affect our friends and loved ones, and I will be thinking of Gordon today. My friend Nancy and her husband Dave survived the Tucson shooting that injured Gabby Giffords and were among the brave medical personnel on-site giving life-saving medical care to the injured until help could arrive.The country and the news cycle move on, to the next shooting or to the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo, but in the nearly two years since that terrible day at a Safeway in Arizona, not a day goes by without her reliving the nightmare of being unable to save a nine year old girl. She and other survivors give meaning to the incredible loss of that day by standing with the survivors of countless other meaningless massacres , and fighting for reasonable gun restrictions and improved mental health care. The survivors carry on, as Gordon is doing, to honor those friends and strangers who did not survive. The rest of us owe it to them to listen when they need to talk, and to never forget.
    Kristi
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    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 10:01 am

      Exactly right. We need to be there whenever we can. My son was at U of A when that shooting happened, and it cut a little to close to home. I find that I am not surprised anymore when these random acts of violence occur, which is terribly depressing.

  6. Jamie
    October 8, 2012 | 8:38 am

    Wow, I can’t believe you had such a personal experience with this tragedy. I agree with the comment above- it is something that penetrates your very thoughts and definitely can cause PTSD. I hope you both are doing well. And I’ll remember to be praying for the families of those lost. It is a new sense of normal when you lose someone close. It isn’t fair.
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    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 10:02 am

      Thank you Jamie. We all were so overwhelmed, and most of all concerned for Gordon’s well-being. It does shake your sense of security in the world.

  7. Haralee
    October 8, 2012 | 9:02 am

    What a horrendous thing to happen in an everyday place where a bad color or cut should be the worst thing.
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  8. Beverly Diehl
    October 8, 2012 | 9:54 am

    I am sorry for you, Sharon, for Gordon, and all those who lost a loved one. But I would like to point out that this was not “a random act of violence” by a deranged person, like the Aurora Colorado movie shooting, but a deliberate act of domestic violence by a divorced dad following an argument with his ex-wife, an employee of the salon.

    We can’t always prevent domestic or workplace violence, but we *can* pay closer attention to it; support the victims, and pay attention to the warning signs that a serious attack may be in the offing. I highly recommend the book The Gift of Fear, as it gives specific information as to when we should be concerned, and when we are simply experiencing a low-level anxious “buzzing.”
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..Shelter Workers Can Plant A Seed of Hope #domesticviolenceMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 11:20 am

      Yes, it was a deliberate act, and there were some warning signs, but I believe that people, in general, don’t want to think this kind of thing could really happen to them. He killed his ex-wife, but he then went on to kill seven other people, only one of whom was remotely connected to his issues with his ex-wife.

      And therein lies the problem – how can we walk around each day wondering if the person sitting next to us in a restaurant or ahead of us in line at the movies is going to be a target of someone else’s violence? It would make it nearly impossible for me to leave my house if I thought about it too much.

  9. Debi Drecksler
    October 8, 2012 | 10:44 am

    I remember your original piece and it broke my heard to read about the tragedy. You essay one year later was so beautifully written and reminds us of how precious life is. I hope and pray that you all continue to heal and the future is filled with much joy and happiness.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 11:35 am

      Thanks Debi – it’s hard to believe it’s been a year. So much has changed, yet we all remain devoted to Gordon.

  10. trina
    October 8, 2012 | 10:45 am

    *hugs* I remember hearing this on the news and how devastating the whole event was. I can’t imagine knowing the people/family that were involved. Thank you for your post and words of remembrance.
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  11. elaine bauer brooks
    October 8, 2012 | 11:11 am

    that was a sobering day….so glad your friend is still with you. Thank you for the painful but important reminder

  12. Nicole
    October 8, 2012 | 11:57 am

    I cannot believe it has been a year already! I pray that you and your loved ones find more and more strength, love and less + less sadness every single day.
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  13. Karen Sandoval
    October 8, 2012 | 1:04 pm

    Wow Sharon, how terrible a tragedy, I’m so sorry you had this happen so close to you. How is Gordon, is he healing? I’m glad you wrote about it. And I’m so sorry :(

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 1:19 pm

      Gordon is doing remarkably well. He is moving forward and has an incredible amount of love and support from his friends and family. It’s not easy but he doesn’t give up.

  14. Jenn
    October 8, 2012 | 2:25 pm

    Oh wow!! I can not imagine something so horrific of this magnitude hitting close that close to home!! My heart goes out to all of them that lost their lives. To your community for having to live through such an event–many hugs and prayers.

    Thanks for sharing, Jenn.
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  15. Lois Alter Mark
    October 8, 2012 | 2:26 pm

    Sharon, thank you for sharing such a painful story. I’m sorry this tragedy hit so close to home for you. It’s a real reminder that we have to cherish every moment.

  16. BigLittleWolf
    October 8, 2012 | 2:35 pm

    This kind of random violence is beyond imagining. You remind us to cherish each day, and care for those who live with tragedy.
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  17. tania luviano
    October 8, 2012 | 3:19 pm

    OMG! so sorry! And thanks for sharing a story so close to your heart and glad you’re doing better.

  18. natalie
    October 8, 2012 | 3:42 pm

    wow! what a unbelievable stor! I am so sorry you have to live with that memory! but glad you are doing better! and that gordon was safe
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  19. Shannon Bradley-Colleary
    October 8, 2012 | 4:14 pm

    Hi Sharon — I’m so sorry to hear about this. This kind of violence ravages individuals and communities. I immediately started to wonder what lessons this tragedy might have brought with it. But sometimes there are no lessons. Sometimes things are just terrible. My prayers go out to you, your community and your dear friend Gordon.
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  20. Marci Rich
    October 8, 2012 | 4:57 pm

    Sharon, this is such a heartbreaking, harrowing story. The vagaries of fate never cease to amaze me: a corner turned or not turned, a yes decision or a no, a scheduled appointment changed…or not changed. I’m deeply sorry you brushed up so close to such evil. I read the news report in the OC Register and just shook my head—How many times have we seen this story play out in communities all over the country? How many more times do we have to see it? I’m not going to climb up on my gun control soapbox here—your blog is not the place for me to advocate—but I also don’t want to keep reading stories like this. What more can I say, other than I hope that your friend Gordon is doing all right, and that he finds solace in your friendship. (How could he not?) –Marci
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    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 5:47 pm

      Thank you for that, Marci. Fate is hard to understand sometimes.

  21. Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator
    October 8, 2012 | 5:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am sure you have helped many people through your blog. Peace to you, Gordon, and all the others touched by this tragedy.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 5:48 pm

      Thanks Stephanie. I hope I’ve been able to convey to my readers how wonderful Gordon is and how tragic this situation has been.

  22. Camille L
    October 8, 2012 | 7:15 pm

    We have the exact same feelings. My sister and I have been seeing Gordon for 16+ years. Our husbands, our brother, our mother, our children–all have Gordon as a stylist. We can never know how it feels to be him. How he goes on. How he copes with something no one should ever have to live through or witness. This is so beautifully written. He is an amazing man–and we will never, ever let him forget it…thank you Sharon.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 7:43 pm

      Thank you, Camille. Gordon is so well-loved and cared for – he is truly a special person.

  23. Alli
    October 8, 2012 | 7:17 pm

    Sharon, this is amazing! I am now in tears after reading this. I was a client of Victoria’s. My mom had been going to her for 30 years so it was natural to me for her to be in my life in multiple ways. As you know, if you know Gordon, Laura or Victoria you know the other 2. Gordon is so courageous and a hero. We all love him dearly!

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 7:45 pm

      Thank you for reading. Victoria was such a terrific, funny, person – she had a great energy and such a fantastic connection to Gordon. And Laura was just about the sweetest person I’ve ever met.

  24. Melanie
    October 8, 2012 | 7:24 pm

    Oh, Sharon, I didn’t realize this tragedy had touched your life so closely. I can’t believe it has already been a year. You have written eloquently about something that must have been so hard to express. Writing does help us to heal, I firmly believe. I wish peace to you and the others touched by this.

  25. Kelley
    October 8, 2012 | 7:45 pm

    I am also lucky enough to call Gordon not only my stylist for over 11 years, but my friend whom I love dearly. He is brave, courageous, kind and full of so much love. He inspires my mind everyday. He is in my thoughts everyday. He is in my heart everyday. There is not a moment in time I don’t think about him and his bravery, even a year later. I also count the days until my next appointment and secretly hope I don’t have to share him during my precious 90 minutes together at his side. I am so lucky t have a TRUE hero in my life and no one will ever come remotely close to having the perseverance that he has. May he continue to have strength and always know how much so many people love him. He is my true hero. I pray that you also have peace, Sharon.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      October 8, 2012 | 7:52 pm

      What a beautiful tribute to Gordon, Kelley. Isn’t it amazing how many people love him so much? I have peace because I am safe and I am here, and I am so grateful to have a friend like Gordon who, as you said, is a true hero.

  26. Megan
    October 8, 2012 | 8:21 pm

    That tattoo is beautiful
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  27. Kay Lynn
    October 9, 2012 | 4:15 am

    It’s times like this that words seem inadequate. I hope the people of Seal Beach, you friends and you continue to heal from this senseless tragedy.
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  28. Barb
    October 9, 2012 | 6:37 am

    Oh Sharon – I wish him that too. So random and so tragic. I can’t imagine the numbness, the sorrow. Hope it was cathartic to write this post for you. Some things we will never understand.
    Barb recently posted..The Inside Passage or Itty-bitty TownsMy Profile

  29. grownandflown
    October 9, 2012 | 6:53 am

    Awful, senseless tragedy. I feel for those, like your friend, Gordon, who lost dear friends and family members. The anniversary will bring back memories that must still be painful to all.

  30. Aracely W
    October 9, 2012 | 8:34 am

    I can’t believe it has been a year. I remember this so vividly, since my sister only lives a few blocks from the area. I’m so sorry for your friend. I can’t even imagine what being a survivor of something so tragic and senseless would be like. It’s times like these that remind you that life is so precious and short and to always tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.
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  31. Joe
    October 9, 2012 | 9:21 am

    Gordon cuts my hair as well, and I couldn’t agree more with this blog post! Beautifully written, Sharon!

  32. Karen Williams Taylor
    October 9, 2012 | 12:41 pm

    Oh, Sharon! I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible that must have been. I’ve never been that close to anything so tragic. Thoughts and prayers for you, Gordon and everyone connected with this event as you face the anniversary of such a painful time.
    Karen Williams Taylor recently posted..Santa’s Merriest ChristmasMy Profile

  33. Nancy
    October 9, 2012 | 3:45 pm

    Wow, Sharon. We learn time and time again as we progress along life’s path that every day is a gift. Stolen gifts are the most tragic of all. Living in Tucson I know the feelings of which you speak. I knew and know several of the people shot alongside Gabby that January day. Everyone changes through the experience, the whole community changes, survivors, friends, families, no one comes away from the day or scene as the same person who entered.
    Nancy recently posted..Seasonal Headers for My BlogMy Profile

  34. Brenda
    October 10, 2012 | 10:28 am

    Oh my, what a heart wrenching story. My heart goes out to you.. I don’t think the mind and heart ever get over something like that, the ache only dulls. I truly never understand what goes thru people’s mind or the behavior behind these types of horrible acts.
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  35. sue
    October 14, 2012 | 11:58 am

    I am glad you wrote about this as otherwise, I would not have known. And, I am sorry that you had to write about it, in that it happened. Yes, I am deeply sorry and please tell your friend Gordon that your online friend is thinking of him and everyone at the salon. I am thankful you were not there on that tragic day as otherwise, I would not know you.
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  36. Aimee
    October 15, 2012 | 11:13 pm

    Sharon…your words are so touching and poignant. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Jodi, Laurie, Ellen and Gail…but especially to Gordon. I have been with my hairdresser now for over 23 years…so I do understand that it is a very special relationship. My hairdresser also works at Gordon’s new salon. I have been blessed to meet him and talk with him this past year. He smiles and always says hello. His arm tattoo always affects me and as I sit in the chair getting my hair colored, I say a little prayer for all those touched by this senseless tragedy. I pray for his healing too, I just can’t imagine. My heart hurts for him, because I know that this week in particular will be full of so many memories. He is lucky to have you and the girls in his life. xox..Aimee

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