Tami Gemmell Rebuilds Lives, Business in Wake of Shooting
Reopening of spa Saturday will begin the next chapter in the story of the Azana Spa family – the healing.
When Tami Gemmell arrived at Azana Salon and Spa on Oct. 21, the business she has run for 13 years and owned for the past 10, the worst of a nightmarish tragedy was over.
Three women were dead, four more seriously wounded, many more left in shock and terror. But that was over. Everybody was out of the building except the killer himself, and police had the area thoroughly surrounded and protected. He could do no more damage. He would soon be found dead by his own hand.
Just then, the next, long chapter was beginning.
It was about 2:30 p.m., after Gemmell "flew like the wind" from Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where she got the word just as she returned from a 12-day European trip.
"My phone just started going off," she said in an interview Tuesday. "Everybody was calling."
Just after 11 a.m., Radcliffe Haughton had walked into Azana with a handgun, demanding to see his estranged wife, Zina Haughton, and started shooting. He also set a fire in a hallway, filling the place with smoke and setting off the sprinklers, which kept running for more than an hour.
Azana Spa was a near-ruin, in both human and business terms.
Women bond, band together
The thing on Gemmell's mind immediately, though, was the victims – her employees and customers. Police admitted her to their command area to join what she calls "the Azana family."
"The police didn't interview me," she said. "Just a couple of questions about the physical layout of the building. I was allowed to join my employees. They had brought in two Milwaukee County buses to give us a place to gather together.
"No one gave me any details, not about what happened inside. There was – mostly a lot of hugging and crying."
What Gemmell faced was the weight of so many personal tragedies and how to handle that most sensitively while also assessing the damage to her business. There was no question in her mind that Azana would be rebuilt and go on.
"I have 65 employees, all of them women," Gemmell said. "Some are breadwinners, quite a few, and many have families, have children. I made the decision to compensate all of my employees while we remained closed."
Growing stronger through tragedy
Gemmell grew up in Kenosha and got a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She got her first management experience working for Allied Pools.
It was Gemmel's sister, Viki Murray, who built and started Azana Salon and Spa.
"Viki was a stylist, very into beauty, the beauty industry," Gemmel said. "She brought me in to run it, and three years later I bought it from her. So I have run it from day one."
Suddenly that business was shut down. It would remain a soggy crime scene for days before the rebuilding process could even begin.
Gemmel is recently divorced, and she called on her ex-husband for help.
"He was the contractor who built it 13 years ago," she said. "He was able to jump right into it. All of our subcontractors from 13 years ago dropped everything to help. It's really been amazing, a miracle, it's come along so fast."
As promised, Azana will reopen Saturday, just under six weeks after its interior was wrecked. Most of the loss, including lost business time, is insured, Gemmell said. That wasn't what was driving her.
"It was my goal to reopen as quickly as we could," Gemmell said, "because that's when the healing process can really begin – when we are all back together.
"This will never go away. It can't. It will always be with us. But we're all coming back. And this has made us stronger, more caring."
Depth of the Haughtons' problems unknown
The public outpouring of support for the Azana victims has heartened and deeply touched Gemmell, with multiple fundraisers and a major regional and national event against domestic violence, called Cut It Out, involving more than a 100 salons donating business proceeds to Azana victims' families.
Support has buoyed Gemmell's hopes for the business as well.
"I've gotten so many positive messages," Gemmell said: "'I can't wait to come back,' 'Don't worry, I'll be back' – even, 'I've never been to Azana, but I'm going to come.'"
Some have wondered how much Gemmell knew about Zina Haughton's marital problems and how dangerous her husband was. Gemmell said she knew nothing of the Haughtons' difficulties, and said she has since learned that Zina Haughton had recently opened up a little about it to a few close associates and regular customers.
Gemmell did know about the incident on Oct. 4, when Radcliffe Haughton showed up at Azana and slashed a tire on his wife's car. Gemmell calls herself a very hands-on business owner – "there every day" – but she was not there that day, and with no background on the matter did not know it was part of a pattern of abuse.
Gemmell didn't speak to Zina Haughton directly about it and had left for Europe before a judge granted a restraining order against Haughton, she said.
"As I understand it, this really just started coming to a head in the last 10 days before it happened," Gemmell said. "I didn't know about the restraining order at all – no idea."
Gemmell said that signs posted in the spa, warning employees to keep all but the main doors locked at all times and not to use them, were "an extra precaution. Those doors had always been locked even before the incident."
One sign that a few commentators have criticized Gemmell for was the "No firearms" one posted on the door, suggesting that someone in the spa with a defensive weapon might have saved lives.
Gemmell said the sign predated the state's concealed-carry law, which not only allows the practice in public but imposes liability on building owners who post weapons bans.
"It's gone," Gemmell said. "It's down. It's not going back up.
"A sign doesn't stop anybody. It didn't stop Radcliffe Haughton."