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Site of Shooting Spree Reopens With a Borrowed Staff : Oxnard: Most survivors of violence at EDD office need more time to recover emotionally. Officials plan to relocate facility.

December 14, 1993|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state unemployment office in Oxnard, the scene of the deadliest shooting spree in Ventura County history, was reopened on Monday under the close watch of an armed guard and two police officers.

The office was mostly staffed by workers from other unemployment offices--giving still-terrified Oxnard employees more time to recover from the Dec. 2 rampage that left five people dead, including gunman Alan Winterbourne.

Only 10 of the office's 68 employees opted to return to the site.

"Many of the employees said that maybe they could not come back on Monday but they would try later in the week," said Anita Grandrath Gore, a spokeswoman for the state Employment Development Department.

A private security guard and California State Police officers patrolled the building as doors opened at 9 a.m. About 80 people waited--some for several hours--to receive assistance.

State officials say they will continue to keep security tight at the North C Street office, at the request of employees. They are also searching for a new location for the Oxnard facility.

"We plan to move," Mark Sanders, a deputy director for the department, told reporters gathered outside the building. "If we had a fire here, we would move. We have to consider this a fire. Some people just don't feel comfortable here. . . .

"We've lost lives. Co-workers have been wounded. We just don't need the daily reminder of what happened."

Winterbourne, an unemployed computer engineer with a history of grudges against government, killed three people and wounded four others at the office. While being chased by police, Winterbourne shot and killed Oxnard Police Detective James E. O'Brien before being killed by police outside the Ventura unemployment office.

The employees who returned to the Oxnard office said they were determined to put the incident behind them, said Jeffrey Millstone, a psychologist hired by the state to counsel the employees.

"They do not want their fears to overwhelm them," Millstone said.

The workers from other offices, meanwhile, said they volunteered to come to Oxnard as a sign of solidarity with their co-workers. Nearly 30 workers journeyed from the Los Angeles area to Ventura County Monday morning.

"This was a shock for all of us," said Desiree Arreola, a state worker from South Los Angeles. "It shows that this could happen at anytime, anywhere. . . . It makes you count your blessings."

Shortly before 8 a.m., the employees walked past flowers and candles--a makeshift memorial left by area residents--to enter the office.

About an hour later, following a counseling session with Millstone, employees opened the doors.

"I don't want the incident to control my life," said Bobbie Espinoza, an office manager who hid under her desk during the attack. "As a supervisor, I really feel I have to provide some support to my manager and to the people who did come back."

Gore said other workers offered similar reasons for their return.

"One woman said, 'If I didn't come back today, I would have never come back,' " Gore said. "It's like getting back on a horse after you've fallen off."

She said all the employees were offered the option of taking a 10-day paid leave, a benefit they can receive until Friday.

Millstone said many of the workers are suffering from nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Also, one unemployed resident who was in the lobby at the time of the attack told state officials that he, too, is haunted by the incident.

"I cannot walk in there," said Ned Barron of Ventura.

Workers patiently helped Barron fill out his forms on a bench outside the lobby.

"It's difficult to predict how people will react to things," said Sanders, who offered Barron a session with Millstone.

Others who did not witness the shooting said they were also apprehensive about seeking assistance at the office.

"I was scared to come," said Peggy Ramirez of Oxnard. "The crime was so senseless."

But Carol Davis, who waited with her 4-year-old daughter, said she was not worried.

"Like my mother says, lightning usually doesn't strike the same place twice," Davis said.

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