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New store opening where 5 women killed in Tinley Park

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 10:01 a.m. CDT

TINLEY PARK (MCT) — For nearly six years, the Tinley Park Lane Bryant store where a gunman executed five women has stood as an empty reminder of the unsolved crime.

Kathryn Straniero said she shops near the former Lane Bryant, often pausing to reflect on the victims.

"I would sometimes stop in the Target parking lot and would just look across to give a moment of silence and recognize, 'People died there,'" Straniero said.

On Thursday, the 23,000-square-foot retail space will reopen as a T.J. Maxx, welcoming customers into the store for the first time since the slayings.

Buildings with tragic pasts are known as "stigmatized properties," according to real estate experts. How communities deal with such facilities varies.

School officials in Newtown, Conn., decided to raze Sandy Hook Elementary and build anew on the site after the shootings there in December. In Palatine, the Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant where seven people were shot and killed in 1993 became a dry cleaners before it was sold and torn down in 2001.

On Feb 2, 2008, a Saturday morning, a gunman entered the Tinley Park Lane Bryant and ordered the six women in the store to go to the back room. He shot five of them dead. A sixth woman was shot and survived. Police continue to investigate.

As years have passed, some residents have pressed for a memorial at the site while others advocated tearing down the building, Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said. Police polled the victims' families, and the consensus was against putting up a shrine, he said.

"Some people said, 'Well, I'll never shop there,'" Zabrocki said. "Other people said, 'It doesn't make any difference. We go on.' It's individual."

In a statement, T.J. Maxx's parent company said it was unaware of the former Lane Bryant location's past when the lease on the property was signed.

Doreen Thompson, vice president of corporate communications, declined to discuss whether T.J. Maxx would have moved into the space in the Brookside Marketplace had the company known its history.

The company announced a $10,000 donation late last month to Together We Cope, a south suburban homeless prevention charity run by Straniero, "in honor of the victims of the tragic shooting that occurred at this location in 2008."

Illinois does not require a seller to disclose that a crime has occurred on a property, said Jon Broadbooks, director of communications for the Illinois Association of Realtors. But sellers have a responsibility to disclose defects that could affect a property's value, like being the scene of a murder, said DePaul real estate professor Rebel Cole.

Property owner DDR Corp., which is based in Ohio, declined to comment Wednesday, but the company said in a statement it would match the $10,000 donation by T.J. Maxx to Together We Cope in memory of the families.

Maurice Hamilton's sister Rhoda McFarland was the manager at Lane Bryant who called 911 from inside the store before she was killed. Police have already gathered all the evidence from the store, Hamilton said, and it was only a matter of time before the space reopened.

"There's nothing to be mad about," Hamilton said. "People (are) going on with their business."

The Lane Bryant killings have drawn comparisons to the Brown's restaurant slayings in Palatine. In that case, two gunmen went to the business at closing time and shot and killed all seven employees, including the owners. The crime was unsolved for nearly a decade until a tip and DNA evidence led to the convictions of James Degorski and Juan Luna.

As workers demolished the Brown's building in 2001, they stopped to let the sister of a 16-year-old shooting victim throw a brick through the window of the building.

A bank now operates in a new building on the site.

Guido Tenuta bought the former Brown's building in 2001. As the owner of a nearby grocery, he said he knew relatives of the victims who hated to look at the property. "I felt pretty good about it," Tenuta said of the demolition. "It was an ugly thing to look at every day because a lot of people lost their life.

"It was the best thing I could have done with the property."

Tinley Park Trustee Dave Seaman noted that the area of the shopping center where the T.J. Maxx is opening has undergone renovations.

"I think the people who lost their lives will be forever memorialized, but it's not the building that serves the memory, it's what each individual was," Seaman said.

"Hopefully that's respected and not forgotten, and hopefully we'll get the bad guy one day."

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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