Gov. Brian Sandoval had more than pancakes on his mind as he and dozens of others sat down for breakfast Thursday at an IHOP in Nevada's capital city, marking the restaurant's reopening three months after a gunman killed four people there, then took his own life.
"It's an important day for Carson City and the community to move forward," Sandoval said, "and also to remember and respect the victims of the tragedy."
The pancake house on a busy highway about 20 miles from Lake Tahoe opened its doors just before 7 a.m. Representatives from the Nevada National Guard and the Carson City sheriff's office milled about while another two dozen or so patrons awaited breakfast.
"This is an important part of the healing process," Sandoval said before digging into a stack of hotcakes with blueberry syrup at a table with Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell next to a lit-up Christmas tree.
"This is a place where people meet, a gathering place for families on Sunday and for folks to have breakfast meetings. It is a really important place to have back," the governor told The Associated Press.
"Memories don't go away, but it's important to move forward," Crowell said on his way into the restaurant as the sun came up. "I think the community is thankful for the reopening. ... And now, I'm going to buy the governor some pancakes."
Several members of the Nevada National Guard were having a breakfast meeting on Sept. 6 when 32-year-old gunman Eduardo Sencion began a rampage just before 9 a.m. After firing shots in the parking lot, Sencion walked into the IHOP and began shooting.
Bob Moore, a Nevada state employee, said he visited the restaurant Thursday "to take back a little bit of the darkness."
"It sounds corny," Moore said, "but I grew up here, I'm a veteran. When you hear about something like this, you're affected."
Dr. Sandra Koch, a physician who was working at nearby Carson-Tahoe Hospital the day of the shooting, called it important for the community to set the slaying and its aftermath behind.
"When you have a tragedy in a city like this, you need to pull together," Koch said. "The way to do that is not to honor some criminal act. It's to move us to a better place."
Florence Donovan-Gunderson, a 67-year-old resident of South Lake Tahoe, was killed while eating with her husband, Wally. Sencion then shot at five Nevada National Guard members sitting in a booth. Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 31; Sgt. 1st Class Christian Riege, 38; and Major Heath Kelly, 35, were killed.
Minutes later, Sencion _ who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1999 _ fatally shot himself in the head.
Seven others were wounded in the shooting.
The restaurant was shuttered, but IHOP Regional Manager Peter Kouis announced in October that it was being remodeled and would open before the holidays at the prompting of residents.
"I'm so glad we can continue to serve the community here as we have the past 20 years," he said. "A lot of people have been very vocal about saying they will come back to see us."
Kouis said the remodeling was complete, but he declined to discuss any specifics of what had changed. There currently is no marker, plaque or any other indication that anyone died there, but plans are in the works for some sort of memorial to be determined in the months ahead.
Sandoval credited the company for continuing to pay its employees during the 14 weeks the store was closed.
"I'm respectful of IHOP for their willingness to step forward and continue their investment in this community," he said.