Half an hour before the gate to the Panera at The Mall in Columbia was raised Tuesday morning, Columbia residents Carol Jones and Sue Warren were back, catching up and waiting to get their morning coffee.
Jones and Warren are morning regulars at the sandwich shop and café on the mall's second floor. While some shoppers have expressed reservations about returning to the mall after a deadly shooting on Saturday, the two said they didn't hesitate before coming back.
"Early in the morning, the mall is so peaceful and quiet," Warren said. She often goes on walks around the mall before stopping for breakfast with friends.
As the downtown Columbia community tries to regain a degree of normalcy after the shooting, some people said they thought resuming their routines was the best way to go.
County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty decided to take her usual morning walk at the mall with friend Joan Lancos.
Sigaty said most of the familiar faces were back. Walking briskly, she and Lancos greeted neighbors as they passed by.
Afterward, the two got coffee at Panera. Sigaty said she often spends time at the mall in the morning, because constituents know they can find her there.
"It's our town center," she said.
But in the early-morning calm, there was still a sense of loss.
Donna Piorko, a floral designer for Wegmans, stood by the mall's fountain, fixing a floral arrangement and placing white gerber daisies on the water to float. A podium next to the fountain held a remembrance book for the victims, where mourners could inscribe memories and wishes.
Behind the scenes, the grocery store has worked to support the community through tragedy. Within about an hour of the shooting, Piorko said, her manager had arranged for meals to be delivered to rescue workers at the mall.
She said Wegmans, which also donated the white gerbers and cream- and blush-colored assortments of roses, hydrangeas, alstromeria and eucalyptus leaves at the fountain, plans to continue to tend to the memorial through Friday.
Jones said she felt tinges of emotion as she entered the mall Tuesday morning.
"When you do this every day, you think, 'I just walked by there,' " she said. "It was surreal, listening to everybody's descriptions of what happened. You hear about these things in malls in Minnesota or Texas … when you hear it with your every day, you say, 'Wait a minute – that's wrong.' "