On March 12, 2005, a computer technician carrying two firearms walked into a church service in a conference room at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel. The gunman had been a member of the congregation, but his motive has never been confirmed. He shot 11 people, seven of whom died, and then killed himself. It’s still Wisconsin’s deadliest mass shooting.
On a Saturday earlier this year, I stood outside the conference room where all those people died. Inside was a gathering of home inspectors.
It feels like any other hotel. There’s nothing commemorating March 12, 2005. No plaque on the wall, nothing listing the victims’ names. Maybe that would be bad for business. (Sheraton Hotels & Resorts declined to comment for this story.) It’s like nothing happened.
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It’s the opposite situation just up Moorland Road at Azana Salon & Spa. On Oct. 21, 2012, three employees were killed there by one of the victims’ estranged husband. He later shot himself, after setting the place ablaze.
Today, along the pathway into the salon, there’s a brick with the names of the three murdered employees displayed at the foot of a tree. In place of the workstation of one of the victims, three yellow roses and a candle rest on a table draped with white cloth. The memorial will be there “forever,” owner Tami Gemmell Swanto has promised.
Most small businesses that suffer a tragedy like this don’t survive, but Azana has. It’s thrived, even.
Every time one of these mass shootings occurs, the question “How do we move on?” echoes.
Some would rather forget. Others choose to remember.
Hours after six people died in Miller Valley on Feb. 26, flowers and balloons and photos of loved ones were attached to fences surrounding the Molson Coors facility.
A week later, the brewery was making beer again. Support animals helped survivors cope, the union offered members free therapy, and workers were allowed to take more days off if they desired. But within six days of six deaths, life went on – from a business perspective at least.
This is an incredibly normal reaction, says Erika Doss, a University of Notre Dame professor who studies the subject. The Wisconsin native wrote Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America, a critical analysis of how Americans respond to tragedy.
Doss criticizes Americans for being too quick to move on – to put up a memorial and blow up some balloons and that’s it.
After 35 people were killed in a shooting in Port Arthur, Australia, in 1996, the country immediately tightened its gun control laws; no attacks since then have come close to reaching that death count. Doss wonders why we didn’t react in the same way after Columbine or Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas.
After Wisconsin’s most infamous shooting – at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, where six worshippers were killed by a white supremacist on Aug. 5, 2012 – the greater Milwaukee community put its arms around the Sikhs. The world paid attention, for a moment.
But the legacy of the Oak Creek shooting has been limited. Though the families of the dead (and the Obamas) had quickly called for tighter gun legislation, no laws changed. The FBI’s count of violent hate crimes hit a 16-year high in 2018.
The only public reminders of the Sikh Temple shooting are on the walls of the temple’s library, where photos of the deceased remain.
Despite wake-up calls like this, the U.S. is mostly unchanged. “We think making memorials is the only option,” Doss says. But, “the numbers continue.”
Doss applauds how Milwaukee and Molson Coors answered the most recent shooting. The brewery launched a fund to support the families of the five victims and kicked in $500,000 itself. More than 2,000 community donors pushed the total past $1.5 million by late March.
A Molson Coors spokesman declined to discuss what the company would do with the building where the shooting took place or whether any memorial was planned. “There may be a good time for this conversation later down the road, but now is not the right time,” spokesman Matthew Hargarten said in a March email. “The investigation is ongoing.”
A monument or other physical memorial doesn’t change anything, Doss notes, but helping affected families can. “I think scholarships and educational possibilities are just as important,” Doss says, “and can also be called ‘memorials.’”
It appears, once again, there will be no legislative tribute to victims of a shooting. Hours before the Molson Coors shooting, Gov. Tony Evers called for a special legislative session to review Wisconsin’s gun laws. Republican leaders declined.
So We Do Not Forget
KILLED March 12, 2005, at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel
Gloria Critari, 55
Harold Diekmeier, 74
Pastor Randy Gregory, 51
James Gregory, 16
Gerald Miller, 44
Bart Oliver, 15
Richard Reeves, 58
KILLED Aug. 5, 2012, at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple
Paramjit Kaur, 41 Prakash Singh, 39
Ranjit Singh, 49
Sita Singh, 41
Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65
Suveg Singh Khattra, 84
KILLED Oct. 21, 2012, at Azana Salon & Spa
Zina Daniel, 42
Maelyn Lind, 38
Cary Robuck, 32
KILLED Feb. 26, 2020, at Molson Coors
Dale Hudson, 50
Gennady Levshetz, 61
Jesus Valle Jr., 33
Dana Walk, 57
Trevor Wetselaar, 33