December 7, 2007 in Nation/World

Youth who killed 8 was in treatment for years

Anna Jo Bratton and Nate Jenkins Associated Press
Associated Press photo

An unidentified person places a candle during a memorial ceremony Thursday for victims of the Westroads Mall shooting held at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

A history of threats

» Mall gunman Robert A. Hawkins had threatened to kill people as long as five years ago and as recently as two weeks ago.

» The day after he turned 14, Hawkins was sent to a group home after threatening to kill his stepmother, court records show.

» Two weeks ago, he threatened to kill a 16-year-old girl and her family after accusing her of stealing things from his car, the girl said Thursday.

» ”He said, ‘I’m going to kill you, I am going to kill your family and I’m going to burn your house down,’ ” she said.

» The girl, a neighbor, shrugged off the threat because Hawkins was known for “shooting his mouth off.”

» ”I never really thought that he would follow through with something like this,” she said.

Omaha World-Herald

OMAHA, Neb. – The young man who killed eight people and committed suicide in a shooting rampage at a department store spent four years in a series of treatment centers, group homes and foster care after threatening to kill his stepmother in 2002.

Finally, in August 2006, social workers, the courts and his father all agreed: It was time for Robert Hawkins to be released – nine months before he turned 19 and would have been required to leave anyway.

The group homes and treatment centers were for youths with substance abuse, mental or behavioral problems.

Altogether, the state spent about $265,000 on Hawkins, officials said.

Todd Landry, state director of children and family services, said court records do not show why Hawkins was released.

After reviewing surveillance tape, a suicide note and Hawkins’ last conversations with those close to him, police said they don’t know – and may never know – exactly why Hawkins went to the Von Maur store at Westroads Mall and shot more than a dozen people.

But he clearly planned ahead, walking through the store, exiting, then returning a few minutes later with a gun concealed in a balled-up sweat shirt he was carrying, authorities said.

Debora Maruca-Kovac, a woman who with her husband took Hawkins into their home because he had no other place to live, told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her a semiautomatic rifle. She said she thought the gun looked too old to work.

Police believe Hawkins was using that AK-47 when he stormed off a third-floor elevator at the store and started shooting.

Police said they have found no connections between the 19-year-old and the six employees and two shoppers he killed.

Acquaintances said that Hawkins was a drug user and that he had a history of depression. In 2005 and 2006, according to court records, he underwent psychiatric evaluations, the reasons for which Landry would not disclose, citing privacy rules.

On Aug. 21, 2006, he was released from state custody.

Friends thought Hawkins was making strides. Then, about two weeks ago, he lost his girlfriend. A week later, it was his job. His friends worried he would regress.

About an hour before the shootings, Hawkins called Maruca-Kovac and told her he had written a suicide note, Maruca-Kovac said. In the note, 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,” Maruca-Kovac said on CBS’ “The Early Show,” 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.”

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