What happens to the sites of mass shootings depends on where and what they are

The schools in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Nickel Mines, Pa., were torn down. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., is evolving into a memorial for the 49 people slain there. The rooms in the Las Vegas hotel where a gunman shot down into an October music festival are sealed and the hotel no longer even lists a 32nd floor.

In San Bernardino, Calif., where terrorists killed 14 people at a 2015 holiday party, workers returned to the offices of the nonprofit that hosted the event a month later. And workers for Advanced Granite Solutions came back to their Edgewood building just over a week after police say a man opened fire in October on his co-workers, hitting five and killing three.

Nearly two weeks after a shooting left five dead at the Capital Gazette newspapers in Annapolis, it’s unclear what will become of the first-floor office at 888 Bestgate Road, but the newspapers won’t be returning.

There have been many mass shootings in recent years carried out by disgruntled employees, terrorists and inexplicably violent people. And while each may provide a guide for subsequent shootings for authorities and survivors, there is no template for what to do with the places where people died.

“There’s no book to check what everyone does after tragedies and everyone needs to go at their own pace,” said Kevin Urtz, associate executive director of the San Bernardino nonprofit, the Inland Regional Center.

The sites of some mass shootings closed only temporarily, as in Edgewood and San Bernardino, while some closed permanently, like the Mandalay Bay hotel rooms where a shooter took fatal aim at 58 people and injured hundreds more attending the Harvest music festival on the Vegas strip.

MGM Resorts International, the hotel’s owner, closed the two 32nd-floor rooms the gunman used and said it won’t rent them again. It also renumbered its 43 floors and no longer even lists a 32nd floor.

At the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed in 2016, the building was sealed but became a makeshift and later a temporary memorial that attracts 1,700 visitors a week from members of the LGBT community and beyond.

Barbara Poma, the nightclub’s owner, said people’s initial instinct was to tear the building down, but she learned through town-hall sessions and surveys that many wanted it preserved.

She now plans to replace it with an official memorial and has consulted with those who planned memorials for victims of the 9/11 and the Oklahoma City terrorist attacks.

“We are treading very slowing to preserve this piece of history,” Poma said. “To others who are going to venture out on this journey after their own tragedy, everybody’s story is different and what’s right for one town might not be right for another.”

Members of the Amish community immediately tore down their school in Nickel Mines, Pa., after five schoolgirls were killed in 2006, and built a new one nearby. Officials in Newtown, Conn., followed suit and demolished Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children were killed in 2012, and built a new one on the site.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., reopened every building but the one where a former student killed 17 students and staff earlier this year. The school system plans a memorial and also announced recently that it would add portable units dedicated to student counseling services.

In Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, an engineering building where a student killed 30 of his 32 student and faculty victims in 2007, officials sought extensive community input on what to do with the wing where the onslaught occurred. It was closed, renovated down to the studs and turned into the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president of university relations, said officials knew they could not knock down the building because it housed highly technical engineering equipment that was prized by those who taught and learned there. Decisions also include whether to include a memorial, he said.

“I’m not sure how this translates to a newspaper or a specific business, but the community will figure it out,” he said. “We’ve been asked by many other communities what we did and why we did it. I tell them you’ll find your path if you bring all members of the community together.”

Joe Lemmon, a consultant and certified employee assistance provider at Work Life Xcel, said listening to employees after a tragic event like a mass shooting is key, even if some decisions are limited by leases, investments and costs.

Management should include as many members of their communities as possible in decisions about how to proceed with shared spaces, events and memorials, Lemmon said.

“There is nothing in the literature about how to proceed,” he said. “Management’s openness in involving them in the process, and it is a process, is most important.”

It is too soon to know what will become of the 5,000-square-foot Annapolis office where four journalists and a sales staffer were killed June 28. Renee Mutchnik, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which owns the Capital-Gazette newspapers, said the newspapers do not intend to return and are looking for new space. Staff is in temporary space as they continue to cover the community, she said.

However, roughly 30 other tenants in the 135,000-square-foot, four-story building have been trickling back since the Anne Arundel County Police Department said it cleared the building a day after the shooting.

No workers outside of the newspaper were harmed, though some told stories of barricading themselves in their offices, hearing gunshots and being escorted from the building by police with their hands on their heads. Employers say they are tending to their staffs by providing counseling and other services, while also expressing concerns and sympathy for the Capital Gazette staff.

“Everyone remains saddened by last Thursday's tragedy but is determined to move forward,” said Carmen Duarte, spokeswoman for OneBeacon Insurance Group, which has a small office on the first floor where workers returned July 2. “We are not looking at alternative space at this time and continue to offer our neighborly support to the Capital Gazette community.”

Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest tenants with about 40 employees and physicians, returned to its first-floor offices July 3 and plans to stay.

“After we confirmed that no Kaiser Permanente members, employees or physicians were injured, we reached out to everyone who was present in the medical center during the shooting to ensure they received the support they needed,” said Scott Weier, a spokesman.

St. John Properties, which owns the building, wasn’t saying if it had plans. The company said in a statement, “Out of respect for those impacted by this horrific incident, now is the time for healing and everything should be about helping the individuals.”

In San Bernardino, hundreds of Inland Regional Center workers returned to their offices a month after the December 2015 terrorist attack. They showed IDs, filed past security fencing and reunited at their desks.

The Christmas tree had been removed and evidence of the event wiped away, though office doors broken down by police were not yet replaced. And the conference center where shots were fired remained walled off. A staff meeting is scheduled for the center in August, which will be the first time it’s been used in the 2½ years since the attack.

Lavinia Johnson, the nonprofit’s executive director, said it had little choice but to remain in the three-building complex, for which it had long-term leases and hundreds of employees serving developmentally disabled clients. The agency consulted employees, who spent a month working remotely on their cases. They decided to use insurance money to reconfigure the conference center and clean offices where many victims had fled.

At the offices of the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services Division, whose employees died at the party, officials decided an overhaul was needed even though the physical space a couple of miles away was untouched. Many of the 60 survivors of the shooting had been seriously wounded by assault weapons fire, and all were traumatized.

David Wert, a county spokesman, said workers shouldn’t be asked to sit in sight of cubicles once used by their slain colleagues and friends, as well as the cubicle once used by a person authorities identified as a shooter. The county remodeled with new paint, carpeting and reconfigured cubicles, as well as enhanced security.

Employees were pleased, Wert said. So was the nonprofit staff, Johnson said.

“We just wanted things to be normal again,” she said. “We’ve been here almost 30 years. We’re very close. People wanted to get back to work and in their buildings, even if they were a little uneasy.”

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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