Just over a year after a man stormed into a Seal Beach salon and began firing, killing eight people in the small coastal community's deadliest shooting, guests mingled inside a building Sunday that looked vastly different from the place where the tragedy unfolded.
Salon Meritage has been gutted, its layout drastically altered. At its grand opening Sunday, those involved talked of renewal and of not letting the man accused of perpetrating the crime "win."
"It's a rebirth, not just for the wonderful people who work here but the community," said Fernando Dutra, the contractor on the reconstruction project. "It represents strength, love for one another. It represents a feeling of ... accomplishment for the community. They won't let something like this be what this community is remembered for."
Seven people were killed and one was hurt in the salon during the Oct. 12, 2011, shooting. Another man was shot and killed in the parking lot. Scott Dekraai of Huntington Beach, the alleged gunman and the estranged husband of one of the employees, is charged with eight counts of murder.
In the weeks after, the survivors -- and the community -- questioned whether the salon should reopen. Jim Watson, the owner of the property, said he had held off leasing the property for months, even as it sat vacant and others expressed interest. He said he wanted there to be time for Sandi Fannin, co-owner of the salon with her husband, Randy, who was among those killed, and Irma Acosta, a stylist at the salon who would become an owner, to decide the next step.
Acosta was swarmed as she worked her way through the crowd Sunday. Tears welled up as clients, colleagues and friends embraced her.
"It's all of these people who gave us the strength to come back," she said. "When you have people behind you, it actually gives you courage you didn't know you had."
It wasn't just the salon that has gone through a renewal, she said, but her faith in others. She said she was stunned by the displays of compassion and kindness from those who helped -- including the designers and business owners who donated their time and resources.
After an incident like the one they've gone through, she said, "sometimes you lose a little bit of that."
Fannin wrapped her arms around Acosta.
"I knew she could do it," she said of Acosta, who led the rebuilding effort. "I had total confidence in her. I'm proud of her."
Fannin kissed her on the cheek.
This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Rick Rojas.