Seeking normality

Sunday, September 29, 2002

NORFOLK, Neb. -- The annual fall parade marched down Norfolk Avenue as planned Saturday. The usual garage sales opened for business, and at the Hy-Vee, a grocery store that doubles as a restaurant, neighbors sat down to their daily breakfast gatherings.

But outside the banks, security guards patrolled, with the memory of five people gunned down in a bank robbery two days earlier fresh in their minds.

Day care centers have also started locking their doors as fear has intruded on the familiar in Norfolk, a city of 25,000 that until Thursday's deadly robbery was best known as the hometown of comedian Johnny Carson.

Mary Ann Herian, 59, now fears returning to the US Bank branch two blocks from her home.

She was about to head there Thursday to withdraw some cash for a garage sale when she heard about the shootings over the radio. She knew three of the bank tellers by name.

"It's going to be very hard going in. I will see those three people standing at the (teller) windows for the rest of my life," said Herian. Crying, she said softly: "I could have been there at the bank."

Friends and neighbors

When the three gunmen burst into the bank shortly after it opened Thursday, they began firing within seconds, police said.

The first person killed was Evonne Tuttle, 37, a single mother of three who had stopped there on her way to visit her oldest daughter at college in Lincoln.

Also killed were four longtime employees: assistant manager Lola Elwood, 43, described by a neighbor as an outgoing soccer mom whose family loved camping and fishing; teller coordinator Samuel Sun, 50, who immigrated from Hong Kong 30 years ago and whose oldest son was to be deployed to Germany in October as a military reservist; teller Jo Mausbach, 42, a mother of two who drove 50 miles to work from the family farm; and personal banker Lisa Bryant, 29, a mother who had remarried Aug. 10 and just returned from a honeymoon cruise.

To Herian, they weren't just bank workers -- they were neighbors, friends. She planned to go their funerals.

The shootings led to the suicide Friday of State Trooper Mark Zach. He apparently was distraught because he had ticketed one of the suspects a week earlier for carrying a concealed weapon but goofed up a serial number check and failed to realize the gun was stolen.

The gun was confiscated at the time. But Zach, 35, thought the shootings might have been avoided if he had arrested the suspect on a more serious stolen weapons charge, said patrol superintendent, Col. Tom Nesbitt.

Death penalty possible

Three of the suspects were arrested Thursday in a stolen car. A fourth -- allegedly a scout -- was arrested later that day.

Jose Sandoval, 23, Jorge Galindo, 21, Erick Fernando Vela, 21, and Gabriel Rodriguez, 26, each face five murder charges.

All could face the death penalty.

And all are Hispanic -- a touchy subject in Norfolk, a late 1800s German settlement that rapidly grew more diverse in the 1990s as Hispanics came to work in meatpacking plants, opened small businesses and started Spanish-speaking churches. About 9 percent of Madison County is now Hispanic.

On the last weekend of September, Norfolk's normality is its fall celebration. After canceling activities Thursday and Friday, the Lavitsef ("festival" spelled backward) was forging ahead Saturday with a downtown parade through flag-lined streets, an antique car show and a country music concert. Many people attending wore yellow ribbons in remembrance of the victims.

For Dave and Darlene Bauermeister, normality is breakfast at the Hy-Vee grocery store, where the dining room can comfortably seat several dozen. They were there Thursday, when they learned of the shootings. And they were back Friday -- Darlene's 77th birthday.

"I'm an optimist, and I'm going to enjoy life for what it is today -- not worry about tomorrow -- and try to forget what happened yesterday," she said. "But that is not easy."

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