OMAHA, Neb. – About 50 employees held hands and lined up across a department store’s entrance Thursday before parting to let a crowd of holiday shoppers enter for the first time since a gunman killed eight people there 15 days earlier.
Eight wreaths were placed near the entrance to memorialize the eight victims, and a blue ribbon crossing each wreath carried the message “We remember.”
Customers applauded as the gates opened, and employees greeted them at the entrance. Many shoppers immediately took escalators to the third floor, where most of the victims were shot.
By midday the store was crowded – more so than similar stores nearby.
“We always think about the victims and their families,” said Pamela Perry, 39. “But I’m not scared to go in the store.”
Mary Lu Courtney, 75, said she was shopping for her 22 grandchildren. “I couldn’t live without this store,” she said.
Customers and employees talked together about the shootings. One cashier told customers that she was glad to smile again after thinking she would be unable to do so; some customers paused to look down from the central balcony in silence.
Von Maur officials asked reporters not to speak with store employees.
Von Maur President Jim von Maur said the company expected nearly all of its employees to return to their jobs at the store in the Westroads Mall. More security would be added but no physical changes are planned on the store’s third floor.
The Rev. Harry Buse of St. Leo Catholic Church in Omaha led a prayer before the opening, saying, “May this store again be not only a place of commerce but a place of giving.”
Von Maur is planning a permanent memorial to the victims of the shooting but has not decided what form it will take. The department store, which paid its workers during the closure, has made counseling available to employees.
The Westroads Mall reopened three days after the shooting in which 19-year-old gunman Robert Hawkins fired more than 30 rounds, striking 11 people, before he killed himself.