December 6, 2007 in Nation/World

Man kills 8, self in Omaha mall

Anna Jo Bratton and Oskar Garcia Associated Press
Associated Press photos photo

Shoppers exit the Von Maur store after a man opened fire with a rifle at the Westroads Mall on Wednesday in Omaha, killing eight people before taking his own life.
(Full-size photo)

Salt Lake City mall shooting

The attack on Wednesday 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.

OMAHA, Neb. – A man opened fire with a rifle at a busy department store Wednesday, killing eight people in an attack that made holiday shoppers run screaming through a mall and barricade themselves in dressing rooms.

The young shooter, who left a note predicting, “Now I’ll be famous,” wounded five others, two critically, then took his own life.

Witnesses said the gunman sprayed fired down on shoppers from a third-floor balcony of the Von Maur store using what police said was an SKS assault rifle they found at the scene.

“My knees rocked. I didn’t know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else,” said Kevin Kleine, 29, who was shopping with her 4-year-old daughter at the Westroads Mall, in a prosperous neighborhood on the city’s west side. She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.

Police found the first victim on the second floor, then several more near a customer service station on the third floor.

The shooter, identified by police as 19-year-old Robert A. Hawkins, was found dead on the third floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren said the shooting appeared to be random. He would not release the victims’ identities and gave no motive for the attack.

Hawkins was kicked out by his family about a year ago and moved in with a friend’s family in a house in a middle-class neighborhood in Bellevue, a suburb wedged between Offutt Air Force Base and the Missouri River, said Debora Maruca-Kovac, who along with her husband took in Hawkins, a friend of her sons.

“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 said.

Maruca-Kovac said Hawkins was fired from his job at a McDonald’s this week and had recently broken up with a girlfriend. She said he phoned her about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, telling her that he had left a note for her in his bedroom. She tried to get him to explain.

“He said, ‘It’s too late,’ ” and hung up, she told CNN.

She told the Associated Press she called Hawkins’ mother, went to the Maruca-Kovacs’ house and retrieved the suicide note, in which Hawkins wrote that he was “sorry for everything,” would not be a burden on his family anymore and, most ominously, “Now I’ll be famous.”

Maruca-Kovac said she took the note to authorities and went to her job as a nurse at the Nebraska Medical Center.

Hours later, Maruca-Kovac said, she saw victims being brought in.

President Bush was in Omaha on Wednesday for a fundraiser but left about an hour before the shooting.

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