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Nine days after mass shooting ravaged this tranquil watering hole, Cook’s Corner is reopening

Less than two weeks have passed since a retired Ventura police officer opened fire at Cook’s Corner.

Since then nine people have been shot, three fatally, at the popular Orange County bar.

Since staff found themselves facing the same tough questions as so many other businesses after a mass shooting. Nightclubs such as Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. Leading friendly markets in Buffalo, NY. Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. And the list continues.

Is the site where they spent so many hours before a gunman stormed sacred or cursed? Will people ever forget the horror that happened here? Should they? And, perhaps most difficult of all, should the business reopen or should the doors close forever?

“A lot of people ask when do we open,” Rhonda Palmeri, chief executive of Cook’s Corner, said in a Facebook video this week. “We think it’s time to reunite the family again.”

And they did, on a sunny Friday morning, as a handful of news crews waited to capture the moment.

Rick Anderson, center, of Fullerton, hugs Jim ‘Pappy’ Lace, right, of Fullerton, as his friend Jimmy O’Dwyer, left, of Orange, looks on after arriving on their motorbikes at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon Friday.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

At around 11 a.m., a line of motorbikes rolled into the parking lot of the Trabuco Canyon bar, which has been popular among bikers for decades. Nothing ceremonial marked the reopening, but a memorial in the parking lot recalls the recent tragedy.

Photos of the victims’ faces were surrounded by white roses. Tonya Clark. Glen Sprowl Jr. John Leehey. Messages of remembrance were carved into the asphalt: “Forever in our hearts” and “Ride into paradise.” On a rustic cart, a chalk-scribbled message offered a plea: “Please get Cook’s.”

Dozens of people were present around noon for lunch. A cook was giving orders over the loudspeaker. Patrons, dressed in leather vests, boots, jeans and baseball caps, drank Modelo and Coors Light on the terrace.

Among those present was Ann Marie Jensen. It was the first time the 60-year-old had entered the bar since running for her life on August 23. Upon entering, she said, she felt a sense of emptiness.

“It’s so heartbreaking to understand what happened to all of us,” she said.

A man raises his arms in prayer as he and a friend stand beside their motorbikes.

David Lopez, left, of Jurupa Valley, raises his arms in prayer after he and his friend Rudy Navarro, of Ontario, arrived on their motorbikes at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon on Friday.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Families and regulars were enjoying plates full of pasta and cold beers when John Snowling walked into the bar and started shooting. He shot his ex-wife, Marie, in the jaw before turning his gun on a woman she was dining with and then on other customers.

Jensen had just ordered a vodka soda and a plate of spaghetti when she heard the gunshots ring out. At first, she says, customers confused it with fireworks.

“But then I smelled smoke,” Jensen said. She lost a shoe as she rushed to the outdoor patio.

Her friend, Leehey, fell to the ground, one of the victims.

Snowling was later shot by Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies.

Until this week, it was unclear when – or if – the bar would reopen.

“Hopefully when everyone comes back, they understand that we’ve been through a lot and there’s a lot going on internally,” Palmeri said in a Facebook video posted Thursday. “We want to be here for the community and we need the community here for us. »

Although Palmeri declined media interviews, she described the event on Facebook as a “soft opening.” They might be missing a staff member or two, she said, “but we’re going to give you everything we’ve got.” The comments on the video were all favorable.

“We are excited and sorry,” one person wrote. “Looking forward to receiving friends and thanking, we can see each other again.”

“The community very much appreciates you continuing!!!” said another.

“Thank you for opening tomorrow. We understand. The community is the answer.

Palmeri did not specify what prompted the decision to reopen Cook’s Corner. But as mass shootings have become painfully commonplace, businesses across the country face the same dilemma.

In Monterey Park, about 80 kilometers away, the Star Ballroom Dance Studio remains closed more than six months after a gunman opened fire during a Lunar New Year celebration, killing 11 people.

Studio owner Maria Lang told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune earlier this year that she doesn’t think she wants to reopen.

“It’s always difficult to go back to work in the same place,” she told the newspaper.

Henry Lo, the mayor at the time of the shooting, said in an interview Friday that while many people were sad the studio hadn’t reopened, “that’s understandable.”

Deciding whether or not to reopen, he said, may raise the question of “will this somehow force people to relive a very horrific incident”.

“When you go through the tragedy and the trauma of something big like a mass shooting, it becomes very difficult,” said Lo, who is now a city council member. “For the owner, the survivors and the families of the victims, it is about the possibility of having to relive an incident.”

Monterey Park recently opened a Resilience Center, Lo said, intended to be a place where people can seek advice and services and also take dance lessons like those they previously received at the studio.

“The community lost something important, but we want to see how we can fix what was lost,” Lo said.

In Thousand Oaks, the Borderline Bar and Grill never reopened after a mass shooting that left 12 dead in 2018. Instead, the owners opened BL Dancehall & Saloon – with the BL standing for Borderline – in Agoura Hills in January 2020, according to the Ventura County Star.

Further west of Cook’s Corner is Salon Meritage, the site of Orange County’s worst massacre. In 2011, Scott Dekraai burst into Seal Beach’s living room and started shooting, killing eight people, including his estranged wife.

A little over a year later, the salon reopens, although it has been emptied and its layout radically changed.

“It’s a rebirth, not just for the great people who work here but also for the community,” Fernando Dutra, the contractor in charge of the reconstruction project, told The Times in 2012. love for each other. It represents a sense of accomplishment… for the community. They won’t let something like this become the memory of this community.

The same tough decision is being played out across the country. In Colorado Springs, Club Q — the LGBTQ bar where five people were killed and dozens more injured in 2022 — could reopen this fall. The Pulse nightclub in Florida, where 49 people were killed at a Latin night in 2016, has not been open since.

For Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, reopening Cook’s Corner seemed necessary.

“They have to. We can’t let this beat us,” Wagner said as he stood outside the bar on Friday.

Wagner said management wanted to start slowly “and collectively find a way to overcome this tragedy without ever forgetting the victims.”

A man writes a chalk message in a parking lot.

Miguel, who did not give his last name, writes a message in chalk Friday on a memorial honoring the victims of the Aug. 23 shooting at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

On Friday morning, Dan and Vanessa Earhart pulled up on their new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The couple, from Rancho Santa Margarita, didn’t want to take their bike anywhere else before coming to the dive bar.

They learned about the reopening on social media and felt a bittersweet moment.

“We’re just going to drink beer,” Earhart said. “That’s how we’re going to overcome all of this.”

Outside, Jensen shared a hug with the bar owner and another survivor that night. She also kissed a man who shared his story of surviving the mass shooting at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas.

Jensen, who lives in Mission Viejo, has not ridden his motorcycle since the shooting. Although shaken from being at the bar on Friday, she also found solace.

“It helps me to be back here to talk about what happened,” Jensen said. “Somehow, as a nation, we just need to come together and love each other. »

Times researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

California Daily Newspapers

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