The office complex in San Bernardino, Calif., where a mass shooting took place last month reopens Monday. Workers will be returning to administrative buildings, but the conference center where 14 people were killed and more than 20 others were injured remains closed indefinitely.
In the courtyard between Buildings 1 and 2 of the Inland Regional Center, a fountain gently splashes as Vince Toms describes what began as a routine day on Dec. 2. He’d been on several calls that morning and decided to take an early lunch.
“I walked through the building and I got out the gate. Took about seven steps, and the fire alarm went off. I thought, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” he says.
Toms quickly realized it wasn’t a fire drill. He’s a manager at the center and a former medic. As he went back into the courtyard, Toms says, he “turned around, told everybody that this is real, there’s a shooting in Building 3. And I went into the building and I told everybody in the stairwell to get up, shelter in place — it’s an active shooter.”
Toms, who’s tall and sturdy, looks off and seems far away as he talks.
Lavinia Johnson, the center’s executive director, says as sad as it is, events like this aren’t completely unexpected these days.
“It was an event that happened due to other people’s political beliefs. Of course there’s the memory of it, but these kinds of things can happen anywhere,” she says. “They’ve happened in Paris and Africa; that’s just the world we live in today.”
Terrorism may have visited the center, but Johnson says many of her 500 or so employees at the facility wanted to work in the wake of the attack. The center is the administrative hub for case workers and others serving the developmentally disabled across San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
“They expressed they wanted to go and visit the consumers,” she says. “Putting that process in place and getting them those tools helped. By helping other people, it helps them.”
Staff worked remotely as cleanup crews removed broken doors and shattered glass. As employees return Monday, they’ll find their offices and the buildings look unchanged. But staff will acknowledge the events.
“Our plan is to have each group of people meet with their managers to talk about their feelings and what they need to move forward. To treat the day as a day back — business as usual — but also to take time to reflect on what we do here and what happened,” Johnson says.
She walks out of the center’s courtyard and into its empty parking lot, then stops and takes in all the buildings.
“I’ve pretty much accepted what has happened, and I’m moving forward with it. I think it’s important that I lead the staff in that direction. We can’t wallow with the sadness and the tragedy that’s happened; we have to move forward,” Johnson says.
Counselors will be on site for returning employees, she says, and they may be necessary if manager Vince Toms is right in his prediction.
“I honestly expect those people that even think they’re healed are going to come back and they’re going to be jolted right back to that day as we go through those processes of grief and loss,” Toms said.