OMAHA, NEB. - A gunman in camouflage and wielding a rifle opened fire in an Omaha mall crowded with holiday shoppers Wednesday, ******* eight people and wounding five before turning the gun on himself.
The gunman, identified by the authorities as Robert A. Hawkins, 19, was described by friends and relatives as a depressed person who had struggled to hold a job.
Shoppers and store clerks described a surreal scene of panic and chaos after they heard shots ring out even as a pianist at the Westroads Mall played on.
Many witnesses, still in disbelief about what they had heard, dived into closets and storage rooms, crouched in dressing rooms, crowded behind desks and then began what became a long and terrifying wait, punctuated by more and more shots.
"All I could think was where is he, what if he comes through that door, what if he comes through right now," recalled Kevin Kleine, 29, a shopper who hid in a storage room with her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, and four women she had never met.
The group pushed every table, rack and garbage can they could find against the door and huddled behind clothes, making hushed calls to 911, to their husbands and to their parents.
Then began the long wait, 30 minutes, Kleine said, staring at that door.
It was believed to be the deadliest shooting incident in Nebraska history.
As the state's most populous city, with 419,000 residents, Omaha, along the Missouri River, has elements of urban woes like drugs and gangs.
Still, Kleine, said: "I've never even heard gunshots here before. Honestly, I didn't know what they sounded like until today, and I thought I never would."
Visitors to the mall said they were eating lunch and browsing in stores when three or four shots sounded just after 1:30 p.m. on the third floor of the Von Maur department store.
Witnesses said they could not see where the shots came from and scanned up and down the three floors of the mall, unsure how to escape something they could not see.
Others said they dismissed the noises as balloons popping or construction noises.
But quickly, as four more shots popped, people scrambled for cover. Some screamed. Others ran, dropped to the floor or searched for doors and dressing rooms and employee lounges.
Some people told of horrific images. A man talking on his cell phone and then falling to the floor. Someone shot in the back of the head, covered in blood. Someone shot on the second floor as he looked up an escalator.
Witnesses said they heard at least 15 shots in all, maybe more. Scores of police officers began swarming to the mall six minutes after the first call, police officials said. They locked down the mall, surrounding it.
Police helicopters circled overhead as officers searched for the suspect. Clusters of shoppers and workers, meanwhile, hid, unsure what would come next.
Police went store to store, department to department, finding clusters of people and ushering them out -- hands over their heads to show that they were not the gunman -- to safety outside. There, some wept and clutched one another in the frozen air. Eventually, the police found the gunman's body.
A short time after the shooting, a woman whom authorities described as related to the case delivered a note to the Sarpy County Sheriff's Department. Capt. Rolly Yost of the department said the note could be viewed as suicidal.
Debora Maruca, whose teenage sons had befriended Hawkins, said she and her husband let Hawkins stay with them after he was kicked out of his family's house. She would not say why his family had kicked him out.
"He was depressed, and he had always been depressed," Maruca said. "But he looked like he was getting better."
Hawkins, who earned a GED after dropping out of Papillion-La Vista High School, got a driver's license after moving in with the Marucas and five months ago started working at a McDonald's restaurant near their home in suburban Bellevue, Maruca said.
Hawkins was not on any medication for mental illness, but he had been treated in the past for depression and attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder, Maruca said.
Though he had his troubles, Hawkins was gentle, Maruca said. But he also had a drinking problem and would occasionally (self medicate) in his bedroom, she said. Hawkins liked to listen to music and play video games -- "normal teenager stuff," she said.
Does this add hype to the stigma of depression?
Edited by Looking Up, 06 December 2007 - 02:47 PM.