Outside Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., there was a memorial commemorating the victims of last week’s mass shooting, but it was scant: a floral cross and a small group of votive candles on the street corner.
Nothing about it felt personal, not yet. So a trio of friends sought to fix that.
Garrett Tingus, 21, thought to bring the flags. Hannah Largent, 21, had the craft supplies in her trunk, along with the rest of her belongings, because the fires had forced her to evacuate. And Kaitlyn Maki, 22, cried as she wrote the names of friends whom she had joyfully and innocently joined in a group picture on Wednesday night, just minutes before a gunman stormed the dance floor and killed them.
All three are Borderline regulars, and all three were trying to navigate the process of grieving a deadly mass shooting at the same time their home state was burning in the north and the south. So they did what they could, taping flags and makeshift name placards on a short wall at the edge of the police blockade.
“They would have done it for me,” Tingus said.
The nation’s mass shootings have begun to follow a somber and common protocol: the crime, the mayhem of the moment and the sobriety of the body count, the name of the shooter, the names of the victims, the vigils, the funerals, the questions that rarely produce answers.
But what does that process look like in the middle of a natural disaster?
“This grieving process that we had tried to help with is stopped,” said Kalin Woodward, 21, a senior studying political and environmental science at nearby California Lutheran University. A member of student government, Woodward and her peers started planning vigils and gatherings for those affected by the shooting almost immediately. Then the Hill and Woolsey fires rapidly spread throughout the area, and nearly everything was postponed indefinitely.
Woodward visited the shooting site for the first time Saturday afternoon on her way home from dropping off supplies for victims of the wildfires. A Borderline regular, Woodward said she wasn’t at the venue Wednesday night. She lives just a few blocks away, though, and her mother heard the gunshots.
Outside Borderline, she got on her knees and prayed for healing as her younger brother stroked her hair. The volunteer chaplains, there with the Billy Graham organization, prayed with her, too.
“There’s not much you can say; that’s the thing,” Woodward said.
Public vigils were downsized to private hangouts, where friends drank beers and toasted those no longer there and recalled story after story about them. Sharing the memories made it feel as though they could keep those who died alive just a bit longer.
“There’s nothing better in this situation than being with your Borderline family,” Largent said.
On Saturday afternoon, after Tingus, Largent and Maki taped up their flags and placards, Ben Ginsburg checked in as he picked up his car. Because of the fires, it had taken him several days to return. He had escaped the shooting with Maki, the two of them running to a hill, where Ginsburg called his parents and lent Maki his phone to call hers.
By the time Ginsburg returned Sunday morning, the modest memorial had transformed into a robust display. A man from Illinois who makes wooden memorials to honor the dead after mass shootings had driven through the day and night to bring 12 white wooden crosses here. They stood in front of Tingus’s American flags, adorned with hearts, angel wings and names.
Ginsburg gathered with hundreds of others, including some who survived the Borderline shooting and the massacre at a country music festival in Las Vegas last year. Beside mounds of flowers, cowboy boots and bottles of liquor with shot glasses, one woman who was crying left a bottle of beer. One man wore a shirt that said “58 empty bar stools,” a reference to the 58 people who died in the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.