Omaha mall massacre: A holiday spirit turned to horror

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat Kings The massacre was presaged Tuesday evening, when a young man with a troubled background named Robert A. Hawkins showed an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle to his landlady, Debora Maruca-Kovac. She says she didn’t think much of the incident at the time – Hawkins, she thought, wasn’t a violent type, although he was depressed over losing both his girlfriend and his job at McDonald’s. Perhaps an hour before the shooting, Hawkins called Maruca-Kovac to say he had left a suicide note. He wrote that he was “sorry for everything” and would no longer be a burden on his family, with whom he had feuded. More ominously, he wrote: “Now I’ll be famous.” Entering Von Maur’s in the Westroads Mall, Hawkins promptly drew the attention of security officers. “Mall security actually spotted Mr. Hawkins upon entry. He was under surveillance at that time, just based on his actions,” Police Chief Thomas Warren said Thursday. But the officers were unarmed, Warren said. “Mall security did not have a chance to intervene.” Hawkins initially remained in the store only briefly. He left, then returned within minutes – apparently with a rifle concealed in a balled-up sweat shirt. He immediately took the elevator to the third floor, and began firing almost as soon as he got out, Warren said. That elevator opens near the girls department. One of its managers at the time was Angie Schuster, 36, who was one of the six Von Maur employees killed. “She probably didn’t have any chance, any warning. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the first one taken,” said Schuster’s sister, Donna Kenkel. “They said he got off the elevator, and she would have been right there in his way.” “He was walking at a steady pace. Boom, boom, boom, boom,” said Alan Mason, who was at a checkout counter buying pajamas for his mother. “The thing I remember the most is him coming out of that little alcove area (near the elevator) with his gun raised up. Just walking in a ready manner, just bopping that gun a little bit,” Mason said. In all, police say, more than 30 rounds were fired – with victims apparently chosen at random. Police believe Hawkins might have targeted the mall simply because it was large and he had been there somewhat regularly. The shopping center was also near the home of a friend whom Hawkins visited shortly before the shooting, Warren said. Mason, 42, was about 50 feet from Hawkins; his wife was even closer. The clerk at the counter told them to go with her to a hiding place – and they went to a small storage area behind the dressing rooms. A grandmother and her 4-year-old grandson sneaked into the storage area with them and they waited in fear. Shooting persisted – then stopped for a moment. Then, Mason said, he heard five or six more shots before all went quiet. They waited about 45 minutes – Mason grabbed a box cutter just in case the gunman came back – and they heard police announce their presence. Officers escorted them out of the store. As they left, Mason saw the gunman lying in the customer-service area. “Ultimately, at the conclusion of this event, he took his own life,” Warren said. “It doesn’t appear as if there was an opportunity for intervention.” At least four people were wounded, two of whom remained hospitalized Thursday. Mason, emerging from his refuge, also saw the body of a sales clerk in the aisle, and the body of an older man down on the second floor, at the base of the escalator. “There were shell casings and blood everywhere,” Mason said. “Blood and gunsmoke – a gunpowder smell in the air. Shell casings all over the place. Blood smearings.” Mason said Hawkins was wearing dark pants and a hooded sweat shirt. “I didn’t hear him say a word. He was too far away,” Mason said. “He just had a determined look on his face.” Before the shooting started, Kathy and John McDonald – who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in August – were sitting in the customer-service area, waiting for a present to be wrapped. They heard strange noises. “Loud, loud noises,” Kathy McDonald said. “I mean one thinks it might be a gun but surely not. It was just very, very hard to process what it was.” The couple scooted their chair over to a wall and crouched down behind it. “But evidently when the shooter came in, John wasn’t completely hidden because he saw him and shot,” Kathy McDonald said. “And so I just stayed there frozen, and he didn’t see me.” John McDonald, 65, a longtime executive with a natural gas company, fell to the floor behind the chair, fatally wounded. “There was so much blood. I just had a feeling that was it,” his widow said. Meanwhile, Mickey Vickroy, 74, joined a dozen co-workers hiding in a storage closet filled with baby wipes and cleaning supplies. “It was just like it wasn’t real. The whole time we were hiding in the back, the intercom was playing Christmas music,” she said. By the time police arrived, within six minutes of the first 911 call, customer Gary Scharf was dead. The 48-year-old businessman was returning home from a business trip in Iowa, but stopped at Von Maur’s to do some shopping. “I called him my Dudley-do-right,” said Kim Scharf, his ex-wife. “I’m not kidding, you’d never meet a more honorable and loyal man. “I’m sure he got in front of other people” at the store, and took a bullet that might have hit someone else, she said. Maggie Webb was dead, too – the youngest victim. A Von Maur’s employee, she would have turned 25 on Dec. 19. Co-worker Dianne Trent, also killed, was a 53-year-old divorcee who lived alone and would spend warm evenings tending to the flowers on her porch. Gary Joy, 56, and Janet Jorgensen, 66 – both Von Maur employees – were also shot to death. And then there was Beverly Flynn, 47, who died after emergency crews transported her from the mall. Flynn took the job at Von Maur mostly because she loved the holiday season, said a real estate colleague, Gena Schriver. “She loves Christmas. She loves buying gifts for people,” Schriver told the Omaha World-Herald. “These were innocent people going about their daily lives, performing their jobs and shopping for the holidays,” said Mayor Mike Fahey. “They are men and women who did not deserve the fate that they were given.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! OMAHA, Neb. – The Von Maur department store in December is so full of holiday spirit that one real estate agent took a job wrapping gifts – not for the money but just to be part of the cheery bustle. Beverly Flynn, a mother of three, was among the eight people killed in a gunman’s rampage that silenced the tinkling Christmas carols on the store’s piano and turned the shopping center’s festive atmosphere into one of unspeakable tragedy. Those who escaped Wednesday’s attack huddled in dressing rooms and other hiding places, while bursts of gunfire sounded from the third floor overlooking an atrium. “We were praying. Every last one of us was praying,” said Mickey Vickroy, who hid with co-workers from the service department in a closet behind the third-floor wrapping room. They stayed hidden for roughly half an hour, until police shouted that they should come out with their hands up. last_img read more

Read More →