The afternoon sun beat down on Green Street. The porch light was on. The morning newspaper had not been touched. The American flag hanging from the tiled awning of the two bedroom, two bathroom townhome in Los Alamitos wafted in a hesitant breeze.
Purple flowers lay against the front door, a symbol of the sympathies for Tom and Hattie Stretz. Their daughter, Laura Elody, had been killed in the Wednesday Salon Meritage massacre in Seal Beach. Hattie was hanging on, in critical condition at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.
Elody was a stylist at the salon, and Hattie, 73, was the lone gunshot victim who has thus far survived. Eight others perished in the deadliest mass killing in Orange County history.
The family’s red Cadillac was missing from the curb, where it was usually parked, but inside a clump of plants, no more than two feet from a welcome mat, was an ever-present sign with an ever-present sentiment. “Papa and Grammy’s Place. Open Daily. Kids spoiled while you wait.”
But not today.
Not with Tom at the hospital, in mourning for a daughter, in prayer for his wife.
Next door, Rose Rosenthal lamented. “I’m so sad.”
“Ohmygosh, they were so nice,” Rosenthal said. “They were always looking out for everybody. The last time I saw them, they were going out to dinner with their daughter. It impressed me that they were so close to their adult children.”
There are lots of kids on the street, a block from Katella Avenue. “They’re the only adults in the neighborhood without kids that we talk to,” said Rosenthal, who moved next door about a year ago. “We have four kids and two dogs, and (the Stretzes) liked the cheerful noises. They probably didn’t like the one dog barking all the time, but they didn’t say anything.”
That’s not surprising. The couple volunteered their time with the Los Alamitos Youth Center, where Tom had been executive director before retiring two years ago. Hattie had signed up at the youth center earlier Wednesday to assist with a haunted house for local kids.
Three doors down, in a matching townhome that shares a common upstairs wall with the Stretzes, Al Ramirez recalled Hattie, a former nurse. Ramirez had some health issues a couple of months ago, and Hattie had shown so much empathy, so much encouragement that everything was going to be OK. “They were very nice people to you, gave really good advice,” Ramirez said. “When I heard the news yesterday, it gave me the chills.
“They are very outgoing, but private in the sense of your personal business. They are very caring people, always there, guiding you.”
The Stretzes like to travel, and recently returned from a trip to Hawaii. Before their world was shattered, they seemed the model of retirement.
“They were delighted in life,” Rosenthal said. “They were happy and relishing their time together.”
That time today was spent in a hospital, one in mourning, one fighting for her life. The time they’ll spend with their daughter is relegated to memory.
“They were very nice people,” Ramirez said. “It’s a tragedy.”