On Friday morning, Becky Bieker — wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and a gun on her hip — officially went back to work.
Outside, in front of her strip-mall gun shop, TV trucks had been pulling up for the past hour or so, one after the other, filled with reporters and cameramen here to talk to Becky about her first day back on the job, about what it meant.
It had been almost two months since her last day of work, which had been a rather unremarkable Friday up until around 2 p.m., when four strangers entered She’s A Pistol, the business she owned with her husband, and her life changed forever.
Now, as the doors were opening and two or three dozen people streamed in, filling the small store so tight you could barely move, she found herself overwhelmed.
Becky and the half-dozen or so volunteers who had offered to help with the re-opening hurried to assist the growing collection of customers and well-wishers.
“We’ll be with you all as soon as we can, folks,” Becky said, smiling softly.
That she was here at all, however, was something of a small miracle.
The past weeks had been a steady dose of grief, and this shop itself — the store she’d shared with Jon — was filled with reminders of the worst day of her life. The front counter she’d been working behind when one of the men struck her in the face. The door at the back of the room where her husband, hearing the commotion up front, had emerged with a gun of his own and — Becky believes — proceeded to save her life. The spot on the floor where he’d fallen, hit by what would be a deadly gunshot wound.
Despite it all, however, she had never considered shuttering the store.
It had been her dream to open the shop, and then it had become Jon’s dream, too, and so in the aftermath of her husband’s death and the grief that followed, the only real question she’d ever considered was when.
“It got to the point where repairs were almost done and I just picked a date,” she said Friday. “There comes a point where you’ve just got to pick a day, otherwise it’s easy to be put off.”
Still, the process hadn’t been easy, logistically or emotionally. There were the repairs and the insurance claims and the blood-stained merchandise that had to be returned to vendors. As they helped rebuild, friends and co-workers had tried to make Becky’s eventual return easier, suggesting little changes that might dull some of the bad memories: New carpet. New cabinets. A new color of paint on the walls.
As the morning turned to afternoon, her dad, Terry McJilton, looked on from nearby. Friendly and stout, McJilton is ex-military, the kind of guy who takes pride in a certain kind of toughness. He spoke proudly of how his daughter had picked herself up from such a tragedy.
The immediate aftermath had been difficult, of course. After her husband’s murder, she had stayed with her parents in Wellsville, Kan., for two or three weeks.
But then one Saturday, she’d simply told her father that she was going home, and so he helped her pack up her things.
“I’m glad to see that she bulled her way through this and is up and going,” McJilton said Friday.
Since then, Becky’s focus has been opening her shop back up, being there for her customers.
On Thursday, she had worked late into the evening getting the store ready for its reopening, and Friday morning, she arrived early — to remove the guns from the vault and make the final preparations for the re-opening, and by mid-morning Friday, business was streaming in.
Customers continued to arrive in bunches, asking about 9 mm weapons and self-defense classes and pocket-holsters. Becky answered their questions patiently, accepted their hugs when they offered, thanked everyone she spoke with for being there. She seemed to take comfort in the return of routine.
Around lunchtime, the crowd finally began to thin out a bit. People still milled about, but the long line that had snaked through the front of the store for much of the morning had subsided and, for maybe the first time all day, Becky found herself with a brief moment of free time.
As her mother sat nearby — not far from the growing collection of flower bouquets that had arrived throughout the day — Becky took a minute to chat with a visitor.
“We’ve always preached here that you have to fight, stand up for yourself, not be a victim,” she said, explaining the responsibility she felt to re-open her shop. “If we chose to close, we’d be going against everything we believe in.”
And with that, she smiled, thanked a visitor for coming, and then turned her attention back toward the register.
She had to get back to work.
To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to email@example.com.