OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The teenage gunman who went on a shooting rampage in a department store may have smuggled an assault rifle into the mall underneath clothing, police said Thursday.
Police Chief Thomas Warren said the young man “appeared to be concealing something balled up in a hooded sweat shirt” he was carrying, according to a surveillance video.
The teen entered the store Wednesday using an elevator, and moments later, gunfire pierced through the notes of Christmas music at the Westroads Mall’s Von Maur department store. People huddled in dressing rooms and barricaded themselves in offices as 19-year-old Robert A. Hawkins sprayed the floor with bullets.
Six store employees and two customers were killed. When the shooting was over, Hawkins shot himself.
The mall was closed Thursday as authorities continued to investigate what may have motivated the teen to go on the shooting spree. The shooting spree was Nebraska’s deadliest since January 1958, when Charles Starkweather killed 10 people in Nebraska and another in Wyoming.
“We will not accept this evil action to occur in our community,” Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey said at a news conference.
Hawkins apparently had a troubled past. He recently split with his girlfriend and been fired from McDonald’s. He also had a criminal record and had left or been kicked out of his parents’ house.
He dropped out of Papillion-La Vista High School as a senior in March 2006, principal James Glover said Thursday. While he wasn’t a loner, he had a very small group of friends and was not involved in extracurricular activities, Glover said.
“It was never a situation where he was out of the loop because people were picking on him,” Glover said.
Debora Maruca-Kovac and her husband, whose sons were friends with Hawkins, welcomed him into their home and tried to help him.
“When he first came in the house, he was introverted, a troubled young man who was like a lost pound puppy that nobody wanted,” Maruca-Kovac told The Associated Press.
About an hour before the shooting, Hawkins called her and told her he had written a suicide note, Maruca-Kovac said. In the note, which was turned over to authorities, Hawkins wrote that he was “sorry for everything” and would not be a burden on his family anymore. More ominously, he wrote, “Now I’ll be famous.”
“He had said how much he loved his family and all his friends and how he was sorry he was a burden to everybody and his whole life he was a piece of (expletive) and now he’ll be famous,” she told CBS’ “The Early Show,” Thursday, describing the note. “I was fearful that he was going to try to commit suicide but I had no idea that he would involve so many other families.”
Records in Sarpy and Washington counties showed Hawkins had a felony drug conviction and several misdemeanor cases filed against him, including an arrest 11 days before the shooting for having alcohol as a minor. He was due in court in two weeks.
Maruca-Kovac told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her an SKS semiautomatic Russian military rifle — the same type used in the shooting. She said she thought the gun belonged to a member of Hawkins’ family, but didn’t think much of it because the gun looked too old to work.
Mickey Vickory, who worked in the store’s third-floor service department, said she heard shots and went with coworkers and customers into a back closet, emerging about a half-hour later when police shouted to come out with their hands up. As police led them to another part of the mall for safety, they saw the victims.
“We saw the bodies and we saw the blood,” she said.
Keith Fidler, another Von Maur employee, said he heard a burst of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 more rounds. Fidler said he huddled in the corner of the men’s clothing department with about a dozen other employees until police yelled to get out of the store.
Witness Shawn Vidlak said the shots sounded like a nail gun. At first he thought it was noise from construction work at the mall.
“People started screaming about gunshots,” Vidlak said. “I grabbed my wife and kids. We got out of there as fast as we could.”
The customers killed were Gary Scharf, 48 of Lincoln and John McDonald, 65, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The employees killed were Angie Schuster, 36, of Omaha; Maggie Webb, 24; Janet Jorgensen, 66 of Omaha; Diane Trent, 53 of Omaha; Gary Joy, 56 of Omaha; and Beverly Flynn, 47, of Omaha, police said.
Nebraska Medical Center spokeswoman Andrea McMaster said the hospital had three victims from the mall shooting, including Fred Wilson, 61, who was in critical condition early Thursday with a bullet wound to his chest.
Micky Oldham, 65, was in stable condition at Creighton University Medical Center. Oldham, who was shot once in the abdomen and once in the back, underwent surgery Wednesday to repair injuries, Dr. Leon Sykes said.
The sprawling, three-level mall has more than 135 stores and restaurants. It gets 14.5 million visitors every year, according to its Web site.
It was the second mass shooting at a mall this year. In February, nine people were shot, five of them fatally, at Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City. The gunman, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, was shot and killed by police.