By Ryan Cady
I’ve probably driven by Salon Meritage more than a hundred times in my life. I can’t possibly count how many times I’ve walked right past it on my way to Main Street, or to the Shore House Café, or just to a friend’s house.
In a small town on the coast like Seal Beach, family-run businesses like salons and boutiques drive the economy, and while they don’t seem so memorable in their large numbers, they weave together a backdrop of a single community, of friends and neighbors and local success. In the Seal Beach/Los Alamitos area, nobody is separated by more than two degrees. In the event of a true tragedy, those degrees vanish.
On October 12, at 1:20 p.m., calamity struck Seal Beach. A man wearing a bulletproof vest walked into Salon Meritage off of Main Street and opened fire on the customers inside. Seven people were killed on site, and another passed away in an ambulance. In the end, only one of the victims survived.
At first, details were scarce, and there was only devastation in the face of what seemed to be a random act of violence aimed at an undeserving public. In time, however, we learned that the gunman was a man named Scott Dekraai, the ex-husband of the salon’s owner, and that the two had been lodged in painful litigation over the custody of their son. While it is unclear whether or not Dekraai was mentally impaired, his neighbors described him as relatively normal, polite and incredibly dedicated to his child. No one could have predicted the horror that rocked a mostly quiet, crime-free neighborhood.
Timarie Brown, a longtime Seal Beach resident, works at Criswell Salon, two doors down from Meritage. She describes the moment of the attack as absolute chaos.
“My first thought was that we were having an earthquake,” she said. It wasn’t until she heard people calling for 911 and her fellow employees herding her into the back that she realized something was really amiss. “Two of my coworkers had witnessed [a man] being shot in his car while sitting in our parking lot…it was like watching a movie.” Slowly, as the realism began to hit home, and the logistics of the police investigation barged into their lives, Seal Beach residents were confronted with eight deaths and a scar to their image as a sleepy, peaceful beach town.
They rallied instantly.
Within hours of the incident, residents began a campaign called “Celebrate Seal Beach,” which not only emphasized mourning for the tragedy, but called for the community as a whole to rally together and show strength. Hundreds of people changed their Facebook profile pictures to the ‘Celebrate Seal Beach’ logo, along with printing it on shirts, signs, and bumper stickers. A candlelight vigil was planned, and the next night, over a thousand people from Seal and the surrounding areas stood outside Salon Meritage and raised lighters and candles in memoriam of the lives that were lost.
Angela Allen, a fellow Anteater and Seal Beacher, was in attendance.
“We all really do know each other down here,” she said, inspired by the turnout at the vigil. “We’re all getting together…to show love and support.” Angela’s profile picture is still a Celebrate Seal Beach logo.
Of course, the support structure is not dependent on Seal Beach residents alone. The nearby cities of Long Beach, Los Alamitos, and Huntington Beach have all funded several charity events, raising thousands of dollars for donations to Meritage, memorial services and other aspects of the Celebrate Seal Beach movement. Los Alamitos High School students (many of whom are from Seal Beach) all show their support daily, by frequenting Main Street, drawing up posters or just helping out wherever they can.
What makes the movement so inspiring is that despite the intensity and unexpectedness of the tragedy, there was no time for extended mourning. The residents of Seal Beach took a day marked with misery and used it to fuel one of the most inspiring campaigns that Southern California has ever seen. From the time of the shooting up until today, Celebrate Seal Beach had proven the strength of community in the wake of anything and that, with resolution and determination, there is nothing that we cannot rise above.