SEAL BEACH - Just under a year after tragedy struck this small seaside community, hundreds of residents joined together on a cloudy cold evening to share in the healing process and vowed stay together and remain strong.
Seal Beach Mayor Michael Levitt said Thursday's memorial and candlelight vigil for the victims of last year's fatal rampage shooting at a popular salon "ends a chapter in our book of life and opens a new one.
Last Oct. 12, a gunman entered Salon Meritage and killed eight people and wounded another in the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Scott Dekraai is charged with eight counts of murder one one attempted murder in the killing spree.
According to the district attorney, who is seeking the death penalty, a dispute over child custody with victim Michelle Fournier is the motive.
On Thursday night, however, was about healing and community togetherness.
In an hour-long ceremony, city leaders spoke, music was played and in the most affecting moments, seven members of the victims' families spoke emotionally as they shared memories, reflected on life, and shared poetry and written words from loved ones.
Sandi Fannin, the widow of the salon owner Randy Fannin, shared her memories of the salon, which will reopen next month under the ownership of her friend Irma Acosta.
"(Salon Meritage) wasn't just a place to get your hair cut, it was a place of life, love and laughter," Fannin said.
She added that her prayer is it would once again be that way again.
The ceremony began shortly after 7 p.m. Residents who had been milling around and chatting amiably suddenly fell silent and all began to raise lit candles as family members of the victims and their supporters gathered in front of the small stage.
Behind the stage, nine palm trees were decorated with white bows and ribbons.
Speakers talked about love, togetherness and resiliency and how the tragedy had brought the town together.
City Manager Jill Ingram said the tragedy shook the town to its core, but forced people to look within and emerge better.
"I believe we are a better city," Ingram said. "In fact, I know we are."
Paul Wilson, husband of victim Christy Wilson, tried to hold back tears as he spoke to his wife saying, "I feel blessed I was the one you chose to spend the rest of your life with.
Butch Fournier, brother of Michelle Fournier, brought a bit of levity when he told his nieces, "(Michelle) will be watching when some other stylist has to deal with these picky girls."
As Fannin concluded her comments, she summed up what many felt.
"None of us will be the same," she said, "but love and goodness have to win out over hate and evil."