Omaha Teen's Shooting Rampage Kills 8, Himself

A man opened fire with a rifle in a mall in Omaha, killing eight people before turning the gun on himself. Five people were also wounded in the attack. The shooter, Robert Hawkins, had split with his girlfriend, been fired from McDonald's, and had been kicked out of his parents' house.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Authorities in Omaha, Nebraska, are trying to determine why a 19-year-old man opened fire in a crowded shopping mall there yesterday. He killed eight people, wounded five others, and then killed himself.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Omaha and joins us on the line. Good morning.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Do police believe that the shooting victims or, as I gather, they do, were random?

BEAUBIEN: They do believe that. They believe that Robert Hawkins came into the store, the Von Maur store here at the Westroads Mall and just began shooting at anyone that he saw in front of him. There were those women and men that were shot. They said they don't believe that anyone specifically was being targeted or that he had a - they say at this point any specific agenda. They say that he just appeared to have come into the mall looking to open fire on people.

MONTAGNE: And do they know what could be behind this?

BEAUBIEN: It's clear at this point that he was a - a very troubled young man. He'd been fired last week from his job at McDonald's. He had broken up with his girlfriend. He'd been kicked up out of his home and was staying with the parents of some friends of his. He did leave a suicide note which apparently said that he was suicidal. The police now have that note. A picture is emerging at this point of a very troubled young man who was very angry.

MONTAGNE: Yet how did he manage to shoot so many people so effectively, sadly, in so short a time?

BEAUBIEN: Well, he was using an SKS assault rifle. This is an assault rifle that was made in the old Soviet Union in the Eastern bloc. It has a banana clip. It's able to fire off quite a few rounds, quite quickly. It's a semi-automatic weapon. Also he managed to just walk into a mall the way anyone walks into a mall. It's very open, and he was able to bring this rifle in with him. And at that point, there was no security when he first went it. And it appears that this happened very quickly, and within a matter of minutes, the entire thing was over and he shot himself and he left eight other people dead and five wounded.

MONTAGNE: And those wounded this morning, what is the latest on their condition?

BEAUBIEN: Two of them remained in critical condition at local hospitals. Those two did make it through the night. However, the police say that their condition is still critical and there is concern about those two. One of the men who was wounded was wounded in the arm and the finger. He gave a press conference yesterday and appears to be recovering fine. So it appears at this point that it was eight, and there are two who are still being watched quite closely.

MONTAGNE: There are reports, Jason, that this fellow Hawkins left a suicide note. Did it explain any more of why he did what he did?

BEAUBIEN: It - we haven't seen the actual note. The police now have the note. What we're hearing is from a woman who found the note and then her recollection of what was in it. It did sound, according to police, like she was - like he was suicidal, and at one point in it he said that he wants to go out being famous. So it appears that this was premeditated, that this action was following up on that suicide note, and it seems like he was speaking notoriety.

MONTAGNE: Jason, thanks very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jason Beaubien speaking from Omaha, Nebraska.

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Omaha Gunman Had Lost Job, Girlfriend

A 19-year-old male who had recently lost his job and his girlfriend opened fire on Christmas shoppers at an Omaha, Neb., mall — killing eight people and wounding five others before turning an assault rifle on himself.

Wearing a camouflage vest and a black backpack, Robert A. Hawkins began firing as shoppers and employees at the Westroads Mall scrambled for cover in dressing rooms, clothing racks, offices and storage areas.

Hawkins had recently split with his girlfriend and had been fired from a job at McDonald's. He had a criminal record and had been kicked out of his parents' house.

Eight people were killed and five wounded before the shooter ended the horror by taking his own life. He left behind a note that read, in part, "Now I'll be famous."

Police Chief Thomas Warren said the shooting appeared to be random and that the dead included five females and four males, including the gunman. Warren promised more details in a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning.

Hawkins was kicked out by his family about a year ago. He moved in with a friend's family, and Debora Maruca-Kovac and her husband welcomed him into their home and tried to help him.

"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 The Associated Press.

She told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her an SKS semiautomatic Russian military rifle — the same type used in the shooting. She said she thought the gun belonged to a member of Hawkins' family.

She said she didn't think much of it — the gun looked too old to work.

Records in Sarpy and Washington counties showed that Hawkins had a felony drug conviction and several misdemeanor cases filed against him, including an arrest 11 days before the shooting for having alcohol as a minor. He was due in court in two weeks.

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

"He said, 'It's too late,' " and hung up, she told CNN. She then called Hawkins' mother.

In the note, which was turned over to authorities, 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."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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