SEAL BEACH - This Sunday marks a major milestone in this quiet beach community's effort to heal in the wake of a mass killing more than a year ago.
Salon Meritage, where a gunman shot nine people, killing eight, on Oct. 12, 2011, will celebrate its grand reopening under new owner Irma Acosta.
"We didn't want this space to be remembered for what happened," Acosta said. "And we are dedicating this to everyone we lost that day, and to having something positive to help us all move forward."
Acosta was one of several stylists working at the salon the day of the killing. She had stepped out for a break between clients just moments before Scott Evans Dekraai allegedly walked into the business and gunned down his ex-wife, 48-year-old Michelle Marie Fournier.
Dekraai is also accused of killing salon owner Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody, 46; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; and David Caouette, 64, who was shot just outside the salon while sitting in his vehicle.
Harriet "Hattie" Stretz, 73, of Los Alamitos was getting her hair done by her daughter, Elody, when both women were shot. Stretz was the lone survivor.
Police and prosecutors say the deadly rampage was the result of a bitter child custody battle that Dekraai had lost the day before.
When Acosta returned to the salon a few minutes later, just moments after the killer fled, she found the normally warm, happy atmosphere filled with chaos, death and destruction.
"When I came back, everything as we knew it was completely ...," Acosta recounted, unable to complete the sentence.
"They said he was here for maybe two minutes."
Though it was mere minutes, the attack remains the worst mass killing in Orange County History.
Today, however, the salon has a far different atmosphere as one enters the renovated space.
The walls are covered in cool and tranquil shades of blue and gray, like those seen on weathered beach cottages.
Sandi Fannin is selling the business to Acosta, though Fannin plans to stay at the site and work several days a week as a stylist. Her daughter, Kelly Vasquez, also plans to work at the salon as a manicurist, Acosta said.
Acosta notes the new design was developed with some input from all the returning stylists, six of whom were taken in by their neighbors at Criswell Signature Salon until Salon Meritage could complete its massive renovation. Another half dozen new employees have also joined the team.
"We just want a calm and safe place for our clients to come to," Acosta explained as crews buzzed around her Tuesday installing fixtures, touching up new paint and finishing the landscaping around the entrance. "It's just beyond what we had expected. We are so happy."
They will all be there this Sunday, when the salon celebrates its rebirth with an open house from 2-5 p.m. Old clients, and some new, as well as several community leaders and supporters are expected to attend.
For some, the changes won't be much of a surprise as many people popped in throughout the past year to see the progress.
"A lot of them have been pleasantly surprised," Acosta said. "There's such a calm feeling."
For others, who wanted to wait until the renovations were completed, it will be the first time they walk through the doors since that horrible day in October 2011.
"Either way, it's going to be very emotional for all of us," Acosta said.
Want to go?
What: Salon Meritage open house
When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Salon Meritage, 500 Pacific Coast Highway, Seal Beach