SANTA ANA — A blue and white Caltrans helmet sat atop a black-draped monument outside the agency's Orange County offices Friday, a dozen lilies alongside.
But it was the plaque under the drapery that told the story of what Thursday's horrific shooting means to the people who work here. Installed in 1987 and dedicated to local Caltrans workers killed on the job, it is so far empty of names.
"Luckily, District 12 did not have anyone who died in the line of duty in the 10 years of this district," said Fred Faizi, a design engineer looking down at the covered monument, flags flying at half staff above him.
"Unfortunately, these will be the first."
Caltrans workers are accustomed to the idea that some of them will die at work. Although the Orange County office established a decade ago had been lucky until Thursday, its workplace--often a freeway filled with cars going 70 mph--is dangerous. Since the agency was founded 102 years ago, 153 employees statewide have been killed on the job, in construction accidents, during natural disasters or after being struck by cars.
But to die at the hands of a former co-worker, one who many employees had joked and gabbed with--a man so infuriated at his treatment on the job that he stormed through a maintenance yard, letting out hails of bullets--was not the sort of risk workers had come to expect.
On Friday, the 900 Caltrans employees in Orange County, and especially the 90 or so who were at the North Batavia Street office when Arturo Reyes Torres showed up Thursday, fought to live with the aftermath of the unexpected.
At the agency's main Orange County building on Pullman Street in Santa Ana, dozens wore black paper ribbons on their lapels. On tables throughout the building, hundreds more ribbons and pins sat in piles. In second-floor rooms behind closed doors, psychologists spoke to employees individually about the shooting. Other workers stood in groups in the hallways, speaking in low tones about what they had been through.
With the maintenance yard where the shooting occurred remaining closed Friday, some workers who had witnessed the shooting came to the main office seeking someone to talk to. Others stayed home.
About 60 employees work out of the maintenance yard, one of five countywide. Thirty more employees were attending a management training seminar at the site Thursday, Caltrans spokesman Albert Miranda said. In addition, several people doing court-ordered work in a highway cleanup program were there when the shooting began.
"All the guys were getting ready to leave," said an employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It was just very traumatic for everyone. Every one of us in that yard was impacted by that situation. It was a regular bombshell."
Miranda said employees described a scene of panic and chaos inside the Orange facility when the shooting began. Employees described hiding under desks and crawling along the floor to escape gunfire, he said.
On Friday morning, yellow police tape had come loose in the wind and streamed across the parking lot. Besides the tape, the only evidence of Thursday's tragedy were two piles of broken glass. Three of the cars still in the lot were registered to victims: the Honda Accord of Michael J. Kelley, the white pickup of Paul E. White, and the Toyota pickup of Wayne A. Bowers.
Counselors from a private firm, paid by the agency's insurance, were on the scene within two hours of the shooting, Miranda said. Several accompanied police officers and Caltrans officials to the homes of victims' families Thursday night.
"People still have some pretty blank-looking faces, and they're really kind of questioning exactly what happened, why, that sort of thing," Miranda said of the scene at the Santa Ana office Friday. "A lot of people are asking to leave early. They just want to get home and feel safe in their home environment."
But even as flowers arrived at the offices throughout the day from other state agencies and from people who knew the victims, day-to-day concerns began to take the place of fear and shock. Employees whose cars had been damaged in the attack sought out their supervisors with questions about how much and when the state would pay for the damage. People who left purses and wallets in their desks when the shots first pounded through their offices asked when they would be able to get them.
Miranda said Caltrans authorities don't have answers to those questions yet. Agency officials were not permitted by police to return to the Orange facility until late Friday afternoon.
As to when the names Hal Bierlein, Michael Kelley, Paul White and Wayne Bowers would be added to the plaque shrouded in black, Miranda could not say.
"We had the plaque, we went ahead and placed it, hoping that it would always be without names on it, but also to remind employees that that's what we wanted--to please do everything you can so nobody's name goes on that plaque," Miranda said.
"Who could know?" he said.