Workers struggle with anxiety on eve of mall reopening

Workers struggle with anxiety on eve of mall reopening »Play Video
Alina Pavlenko, 16, says she quit her job at a Clackamas Town Center kiosk after the gunman during Tuesday's shooting fired at her and missed.

CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Alina Pavlenko can't sleep.

The 16-year-old just keeps reliving the moment the masked gunman missed her at the Clackamas Town Center on Tuesday.

"It sticks with me. I think that's something I'll have to live with forever," Pavlenko said Thursday. "He keeps walking, slow pace, turns my way, aims my way, misses, and that's when I'm like, 'Oh my God, I have to hide.'"

They are haunting memories, and they linger for many of the employees who will return to work as Clackamas Town Center gets ready to open its doors for the first time Friday at 9 a.m. since a man opened fire near a crowded food court.

But Pavlenko won't be among those going back to work at the mall. While she dodged death or injury, the idea of going back to her job at Fabulicious Cupcakes is terrifying. So she decided to quit.

"I'm not scared to go back and shop as long as I'm with somebody, but I don't think I can stand to work alone again," she said.

For many who will be returning to work, their sense of security has been shattered but experts say there are things they can do to take care of themselves.

Karen Carlin works for Centerstone – an urgent walk-in clinic for mental health issues.

"We were giving people resource information and telling them what to look for," she said Thursday.

She and two other therapists spent the day helping employees with how to handle the mall's reopening, especially emotionally. When they return she says it's important to be sensitive to something that might bring up a memory and know how to cope.

"Taking a break, maybe doing breathing, maybe call the crisis line for support," Carlin said. "Just being real sensitive to people's timeline, offering them extra days or things like that."

But for Pavlenko the memories are just too raw.

"I don't think I'm gonna go back," she said. "I can't sit there and think about this happening all the time. It'll bring back memories over and over – probably mess me up."

Pavlenko says it helps to share her story and counselors agree. They say people's feelings will vary greatly and could last for a couple of weeks. If it affects their work and relationships, they might want to seek professional help.

Store managers were allowed back into the mall Thursday to tidy their stores. They described an eerie picture. And while the mall staff has done a good job of making repairs and cleaning, the memories can't be erased so easily for them, either.

"I think it will take some time, but I think it is something that everyone needs to do. Everyone needs to try to move forward," said Stephanie Prohaska, a manager of a food court restaurant.

There will be extra security on hand, including officers in plain clothes.

Clackamas County is offering counseling to anyone in need of mental health services. The county is directing anyone affected by this tragedy to its walk-in clinic and crisis line. That phone number is 503-655-8585.

Clackamas County says some people came to its walk-in clinic at the Ross Center directly from the mall after the shooting looking for help. And they have a free drop-in group happening every night at five o'clock for a couple of weeks.