Here’s what happened to the sites of past mass shootings
Pulse wasn’t built to be a memorial. It was built to be a nightclub, a shrine to cocktails and loud music with a dance floor and a patio, a temple of the living.
Then a gunman killed 49 clubgoers at the gay Orlando, Fla., nightspot on June 12.
Now the building stands as it did on the night of the bloodshed, with well-wishers still leaving balloons, flowers and notes outside the sealed facility. But Orlando city officials and club representatives still have to decide on the best permanent tribute to the victims of the deadliest mass shooting — and the deadliest attack on the LGBT community — in modern American history.
It’s a delicate process, unfortunately familiar to many American communities visited by mass shootings, and leaders have taken different paths in how to treat the locations where they took place.
Unlike other disasters, mass shootings tend to leave the structures where they take place intact. The problem isn’t filling in bullet holes, but the memory of what happened. One of the first places to encounter this conundrum was Littleton, Colo.
On April 20, 1999, two students, Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, shot and killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School before killing themselves.
Mass shootings had happened before, but few were covered as heavily by the media and had such an emotional impact as the Columbine shooting. After the burials, there was the problem of what to do with the school itself. It was still basically a functioning school, after all, and the district still had students who needed to be educated.
The school spent more than $1.2 million on repairs and renovations to the building, which reopened just four months later. Officials decided to change the sound of the alarms that had blared for hours during the attack, and the library, where many of the victims died, remained closed.
“A little paint and new carpet isn’t going to heal the wounds,” Linda Mauser, whose son Daniel was among those killed, told the Denver Post in 1999.
The library was eventually demolished and replaced with an atrium, and a memorial park has been built outside the school.
Here is a compilation of President Obama reacting to mass shootings in the United States over the years.
Newtown, Conn., faced similar trauma after a gunman killed 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
But, unlike at Columbine, parents couldn’t imagine dropping off their children at the school again, even a renovated version. The 28-member Sandy Hook School Task Force voted unanimously to tear down the whole school and build a new one.
“I don’t mean to one-up Columbine, but the number of victims and their ages here made it different,” Dan Cruson, the town historian, told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “With time, memories will become less raw, and with future generations, the hope is that this will become something in a history book. … But it’s a crime scene.”
The unanimous vote notwithstanding, demolition and reconstruction came with its own anguish and debate.
“Our family has not asked for anything since Dec. 14, except that the building ... be razed and the new Sandy Hook school be located at a new location,” Brian Engel, the father of shooting victim Olivia Rose Engel, 6, told the task force.
Relocating the school required that some homeowners move to make room for new construction. Officials decided to change the entrance to the building so that families wouldn’t have to pass by the firehouse where grieving parents waited for news about their children immediately after the attack.
“The hardest thing I’m having to deal with is ... the feeling that we didn’t just lose 20 children and six adults,” Peter Barresi, whose son was a first-grader at Sandy Hook when the attack happened, told The Times. “We’re letting [the gunman] take the building too, and he’s winning.”
The newly rebuilt school, which cost $50 million, opened to the public this week, though no memorial has been built at the original site yet.
After 12 moviegoers were killed and 70 others wounded at the Denver-area Century 16 movie theater on July 20, 2012, theater owner Cinemark decided to renovate the facility and reopen it six months later under a new name, Century Aurora.
Shooting survivor Corbin Dates called the event empowering, telling The Times, “Evil doesn’t have the best of me and it never will.”
Not everyone was so happy. Many of the victims’ families boycotted the event.
“They were treating it like I lost my raincoat there and not my son,” Scott Larimer, whose son John Larimer, 27, was killed, told The Times in 2013. “I’m not sure if they’re just trying to drum up support so they can just reopen their theater and make some money, or what it is.”
Family members of nine of the victims wrote a letter criticizing Cinemark for showing “ZERO compassion to the families of the victims whose loved ones were killed in their theater.”
City officials, fearing such a response, had held an online survey about the future of the theater and said the public’s response was widely in favor of reopening.
“Everyone heals. Some slower, some in different ways. Some wanted this theater open, some didn’t,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the theater’s reopening. “For many here tonight, this is the path to healing.”
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan, 27, died in the attack, decided to attend.
“The people of Aurora decided that’s what they wanted,” Sullivan told The Times. “So I decided, ‘Well, that’s what we’ll do.’ … The people of Aurora have done everything they can to help us through this very difficult time.”
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