By KIM LEATHERMAN
SEBRING — A land once known for tragedy will soon be a place for peace and remembrance. The SunTrust Foundation revealed its plans to the Highlands News-Sun on Thursday for the property where a mass shooting took place on Jan. 23. The SunTrust Foundation spokesperson said construction plans on Phase I of the memorial will begin within a few weeks.
The memorial will sit on the same footprint as the SunTrust Bank site at 1901 U.S. 27 South. The bank was the site of a mass shooting in which five women were killed. The women have come to be known as the “Sebring Five.” The women were four employees — Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, and Ana Pinon-Williams — and a customer, Cynthia Watson, respectively.
The shooting shook the entire community and the building stood as a makeshift memorial. At the end of May, the building was razed in order to create something special for the families of the victims, as well as survivors and the community to visit.
The community park will provide a place for reflection. Phase I has been described as a hard-scaped community park.
“This will be open to the public and community to reflect, remember and honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 23,” the spokesperson said.
The park will be filled with symbolism, especially with the numbers 1, 2 and 3 for Jan. 23 and 12:30 p.m., the date and time the shooting occurred. There is also an emphasis on the number five, representing the women who were killed.
A large pentagon will be in the center of the space. The pentagon was chosen because of the five women and because it represents five parts of a whole, the rendering shows. In its center, a plaque will carry a message from the SunTrust family. Other plaques will explain the significance of the site.
There will be five benches and low walls for seating. Space between benches is planned for privacy. The gravels and other hardscapes will be low maintenance. Lighting will be subtle at night, just enough to appear to glow.
The park will be compliant with Americans with Disabilities laws.
The spokesperson said the target date for completion is the end of the year. SunTrust Foundation is using a local construction company for the building and maintenance. They intend to hire locally for the project whenever feasible.
The SunTrust Foundation has been in “listening mode” and has been taking suggestions for the site from community and business leaders and non-profits leaders.
As mentioned, there will be a second phase to the project. The park will be in place for a few years, according to the spokesperson.
“We will eventually build a permanent structure for mental and behavioral health services for youth and also serve as a space for the community.”
There will be no waste, the spokesperson assured. The major elements of the Phase I projects will be re-purposed.