Workers return to San Bernardino offices after massacre

2016-01-05 07:02
Investigators gather around a black SUV that was involved in a police shoot-out with the San Bernardino suspects. (Jae C Hong, AP)

Investigators gather around a black SUV that was involved in a police shoot-out with the San Bernardino suspects. (Jae C Hong, AP)

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San Bernardino — Behind a chain-link fence and under heavy security, workers on Monday returned to their offices at the San Bernardino campus where 14 people died last month in a massacre.

Inland Regional Center employees flashed their identification badges to security guards who ushered them into a parking lot surrounded by a mesh-wrapped fence as dozens of news reporters stood outside.

Since the attack, few employees of the center that serves autistic children and mentally disabled adults have gone to the office, other than for brief visits to gather personal belongings.

Melvin Anderson, who helps transport the center's clients, was trying to figure out where he could turn in paperwork to get paid. The last time he did that — as he does each month — was the day before the December 2 terror attack at a holiday luncheon for county employees. The gathering was held in a building on the gleaming campus.

"It's scary, really scary, but we as Americans just have to face what's going on and try to move on," Anderson said. "We've got to pull ourselves together, and we've got to go on."

Many of the center's roughly 600 employees have continued to work and visited their clients' homes over the past month. But they hadn't been together in the place where everything froze since law enforcement officers whisked them away after the gunfire.

Amid the investigation and cleanup, the campus has been locked behind the temporary fence. Within that perimeter, in one corner, is a second fence. It seals the conference center that San Bernardino County's health department was renting for the holiday luncheon when the two shooters began their assault.

A county restaurant inspector targeting his co-workers was joined by his wife in killing 14 and injuring dozens in the attack. They were motivated by radical Islamist beliefs, according to the FBI.

The conference building did not reopen Monday, and it's unclear when it might.

In the afternoon, more than 3 000 people attended a memorial service for victims of the shooting organized so county employees could mourn together.

Those gathered at the arena in Ontario heard consolation and inspiration from speakers that included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and evangelical pastor Rick Warren.

Both pulled from their own experiences dealing with loss — Warren's following the death of his son and Giuliani from his time at the helm of the city during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — and urged the audience to make something good come from this tragedy.

Touting the development of lower Manhattan since the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, Giuliani said he hopes that San Bernardino will also emerge strong.

"Come to San Bernardino now and spend money and tell the terrorists 'screw you,'" Giuliani told the crowd to boisterous applause. "You can't beat us. We are stronger than you are. Those people didn't die for nothing. They died because of liberty and freedom and decency and human rights."

Warren urged the employees not to bottle up their grief or become bitter and to accept help from others when they need it.

"Grief is a tool that God has given to us. It is the way we get through the transitions of life," Warren said. "It is not grief that paralyzes us — it's fear."

Professional counselors were being made available for workers who wanted them.

The center, which serves nearly 31 000 disabled clients in the working-class sprawl east of Los Angeles, is the largest of 21 in California. It is a vital community resource in a place where about one-third of households live below the poverty line.

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