(Photo: AP Images / Nati Harnik)
A teenage gunman carried his rifle into a Nebraska mall Wednesday afternoon, firing what police officials said appeared to be random shots. He killed nine people, including himself, and injured five others.
Police identified the gunman as 19-year-old Robert A. Hawkins of Bellvue, Neb. Hawkins had left behind a suicide note saying how sorry he was for everything and that now he would be famous, said Debora Maruca-Kovac, whose family had taken Hawkins in.
"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, describing the note, according to The Associated Press. "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."
The shootings occurred from the third floor of the popular Westroads Mall in Omaha, sending panicked holiday shoppers and employees fleeing for cover. The first 911 call came in at 1:42 p.m., and the shooting was already over when police arrived six minutes later, authorities said, according to AP.
Keith Fidler, who worked in the Von Maur department store where Hawkins opened fire, said he heard a bust of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 more rounds.
The gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest, the World-Herald reported.
Less than an hour before the shooting, the gunman called Maruca-Kovac and told her about the note he left for her in his bedroom. She tried to get him to explain, but he said "it's too late" and hung up, she said.
Maruca-Kovac, whose teenage sons were friends with Hawkins, had let Hawkins stay with them after he left or was kicked out of his parents' house. He had recently split with his girlfriend and been fired from McDonald's.
"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 told AP.
"He was depressed, and he had always been depressed," she said. "But he looked like he was getting better."
She noted that Hawkins had a drinking problem and would occasionally smoke marijuana in his bedroom. According to records in Sarpy and Washington counties, Hawkins had a felony drug conviction and several misdemeanor cases filed against him, including a recent arrest for having alcohol as a minor, as reported by AP.
He also liked to do "normal teenager stuff" such as listen to music and play video games, said Maruca-Kovac.
"He was a very helpful young man, but he was quiet," she commented. "He didn't cause a lot of trouble. He tried to help out all the time. He was very thankful for everything. He wasn't a violent person at all."
Recent shooting tragedies involving teens and young adults have proven to be a "wake-up" call for many.
"It's a wake-up time for us to get back to where we have been in our relationship with God, our dependence upon Him," Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International, said earlier this year. "Hes the one who controls the world."
Researcher George Barna has emphasized the role of parents and the huge influence they have on their children. He noted in an earlier study that most young people admit that they feel as if they do not receive sufficient attention from their parents. They also feel they do not have enough good friends that they can count on, lack role models, and do not feel that they have intrinsic value.
The mall shooting spree comes less than a year after 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members before committing suicide at Virginia Tech University in April. It was the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. Cho was described by family members as a "well-behaved" child but troubled his parents because he was so quiet. Before the shooting, Cho sent a package to NBC headquarters containing a statement, part of which read, "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood."
A mall shooting also occurred earlier this year in February when five people were killed at Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City. The gunman was 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, who was shot and killed by police.