Published January 14, 2015
Members clad in workout gear and holding water bottles and towels quietly returned Saturday to a health club where a gunman killed three women, as calm replaced the chaos of just a few weeks ago.
Workers inside the LA Fitness took down white plastic sheeting behind the cavernous facility's front glass doors before unlocking them, opening the club for the first time since the Aug. 4 shooting.
"This is a happy nice place and I think it's important that we come back because things like that can't control our lives," said Dorrine Green, of Upper St. Clair, who was one of about 15 people waiting at the club when it opened at 8 a.m.
Many of those waiting were looking forward to getting back to their normal routine, which was interrupted the night George Sodini entered the club with a gym bag full of guns.
The 48-year-old computer analyst killed three women and injured nine others in a Latin dance class before killing himself. Sodini targeted the class full of women after what he described on a hate-filled Web page as years of rejection and loneliness.
In the days following the bloodshed, the police tape that had cordoned off the health club was replaced by a small makeshift memorial of flowers and notes. The sprawling parking lot in front of the large, beige building remained eerily empty.
But Saturday morning, club members returned. Before the doors opened, a LA Fitness worker removed two teddy bears, a bouquet and a note left at the front door and placed them in a grassy area next to the club. The space was filled with signs and cards, one of which said "Why" on its front cover.
The memorial was the only visible sign of what had happened earlier in the month— club members said the room inside where the shooting took place had been redone with new floors and mirrors. It was already in use, too; about a dozen people were using it for a morning aerobics class, they said.
The club's daycare, visible from the front, also had several children playing inside.
The Irvine, Calif.-based LA Fitness reopened the club to members only Saturday and said it would reopen to the general public Monday. The company referred media inquiries about the club's reopening to its Web site.
"We thank everyone for their support," said a statement posted online. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and those who are now recovering."
Club member Eric Chandler, 35, came to the facility Saturday morning without his usual workout gear. He said he wasn't there to lift weights or do cardio, but he felt compelled to come by.
"I felt that I needed to come and pray. I just wanted to come in and walk around and pray," he said.
After leaving the club, Chandler said everything inside looked the same but felt "like walking into a library."
"It's quieter than normal. Usually, it's louder," he said.
Ginger Angus, 55, of Carnegie, was one of the first to pull into the parking lot Saturday, and gave a friendly smile to Rich Wall, of Cecil, who was parked nearby. The two have been Saturday morning regulars for months.
Angus said exercising was a big part of her life and she was glad to get back to the club. But she said her routine would change just slightly.
"I want to look and see where the exits are," she said. "I never paid attention before."
Wall said his thoughts were with those who were here that night, but he was eager to be back.
"You can't let incidents like this shy you away from a certain place," he said.
The two were joined by Green, another Saturday regular. As sad as the shooting was, she said, it could have happened in a grocery store or anywhere else and so it wouldn't keep her away.
Still, despite the routine, the sadness was still there.
"The first time I had to run an errand down here I pulled in the parking lot, and burst into tears," she said. "It's just so tragic."