December 5, 2007
Robert A. Hawkins, 20, of Bellevue, Nebraska, has been identified as the shooter who killed nine people — including himself — and injured five others at the Westroads Mall this afternoon in Omaha, NE. Hawkins, who fired down at holiday shoppers from a third-floor balcony with an SKS semiautomatic Russian military rifle taken from his stepfather, wore a camouflage vest, carried a black backpack and had a military-style haircut, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The gunman reportedly wanted to “go out in style.”
Hawkins was arrested on misdemeanor charges on November 24, including possession of alcohol by a minor. His arraignment was set for December 19. He had a prior felony drug conviction. He was also apparently upset about being fired from McDonald’s, where he allegedly stole $17 from his till, and he and his girlfriend broke up about two weeks ago. He tried to join the Army and, not surprisingly, was rejected.
The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department was preparing to search a home in the Quail Creek area of Bellevue. Debora Maruca-Kovak, who owns the house at 4302 McCartey Loop where Hawkins was staying, said he was emotionally unstable. According to Maruca-Kovak, who last saw Hawkins this morning as he came out of his room, “He said he’d gotten fired and was pretty upset and said, ‘This is the only way,’ and we tried to talk to him…He was just a very troubled — I had no idea that he was this troubled. I don’t know if it was because he got fired from McDonald’s. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Hawkins became increasingly distressed in phone calls today, “saying he was sorry” and that he “didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.” Before hanging up, he finally said: “Now, I’ll be famous.”
The FBI was searching his room while Cooper interviewed her. Ms. Maruca-Kovak is a nurse at the Nebraska Medical Center, where some of Hawkins’ victims were treated. It remains unclear as to why she didn’t call for help for this suicidal young man.
Ms. Maruca-Kovak told CNN that Hawkins had been kicked out of his family’s home and had come to live with her about a year and a half ago. She commented: “He was like a lost, drowned puppy that nobody wanted.”
She said she saw Hawkins with the rifle on Tuesday evening, but thought he was going hunting with her son. According to another report, she thought the SKS belonged to someone in Hawkins’ family, and that the firearm was too old to work. A friend of Hawkins, Shawn Saunders, told KETV that the gunman had been on antidepressants and was bouncing from one job to another. A KETV viewer sent e’mail saying: “I went to school for seven years with (Hawkins) and he seemed to be a suicidal kid. During school, he would talk about killing or something along those lines.” Hawkins attended Papillion-La Vista High School, but dropped out in March 2006, according to a school spokesperson. He had been in district schools since kindergarten.
Police received the first call about the mall shootings at 1:42 p.m. Dozens of Omaha Police Department officers, Douglas County Sheriff’s Department deputies, officers from other local police departments and the FBI descended on the mall. By 2:12, 30 minutes later, it was all over. Renee Toney, who works in one of the third-floor stores in a gift wrapping area, said that when Hawkins got off the elevator, he began firing rifle shots into the ceiling. “He was moving very fast,” Toney said. “I would say closer to 30 (shots) in all,” she added. She said that when police rescued her, she saw as many as six bodies, some piled on top of one another.
On Wednesday evening, McDonald’s released a statement. According to Kim Correll, vice president and general manager of McDonald’s Midwest Region, “We are extremely saddened by this unfortunate and senseless act of violence. Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those involved in this tragedy…It would be inappropriate to comment or speculate about this incident. Nor would it be appropriate to comment on an ongoing police investigation.”
It’s not known at this time if Hawkins said anything at the mall. His body was found in the customer service area of the Von Maur department store, whose corporate headquarters is in Davenport, Iowa. The company’s president, Jim Von Maur, flew to Omaha to assist in the investigation and to support his staff. “This is just devastating,” he told KETV NewsWatch: “Shock and devastation.” Von Maur described the company as tight-knit and family owned. Corporate headquarters released a statement reading: “We are deeply saddened by the horrific shooting at our Omaha store this afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragic event, as well as their families. We are cooperating fully with the Omaha and Nebraska state police departments.”
While seven people died at the scene, two more died after being transported to Creighton University Medical Center: five women and three males. Two wounded people are listed in critical condition. If the death roll rises above 10, this incident will exceed Charles Starkweather’s toll when he killed 10 people in Nebraska in 1958. It’s also the highest death toll from any single shooting spree in Nebraska.
So far, this is the fourth shooting at a U.S. shopping center or mall this year; the other shootings were in Douglasville, GA; Kansas City, MO; and Salt Lake City, UT. The larger, troubling question is: How do we protect shoppers in open vulnerable environments such as shopping malls? This particular mall alone receives about 14.5 million visitors per year.
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