A troubled teenager with a Soviet-era assault rifle shattered Nebraska's sense of heartland security Wednesday afternoon. The rampage by 19-year-old Robert Hawkins at the Westroads Mall was the worst day of violence in modern Nebraska history. He killed eight people and wounded five others before taking his own life.
Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren on Thursday officially read the tally of the dead.
The brunt of the attack fell on employees of the Von Maur department store. Six of the people killed worked there.
As more details about the shooting emerged Thursday, residents tried to come to grips with the tragedy at numerous prayer vigils across Eastern Nebraska.
Harbingers of Tragedy
Warren said mall security guards had been tracking Hawkins on surveillance cameras because he appeared to be behaving strangely. It was later discovered that he had left several voicemails and text and written messages before the shooting.
Hawkins concealed the assault rifle in a sweatshirt until he got inside an elevator.
"He took the elevator to the third floor and immediately started firing shots," Warren said.
Police said Hawkins had stolen the rifle from his stepfather. They're still investigating where he got the two clips of ammunition that each held 30 rounds.
A Series of Losses
Officials also disclosed that Hawkins had a juvenile criminal record and was a ward of the state in various foster homes from the time he was 14 until just after his 18th birthday. He had just lost his job at McDonald's and had broken up with his girlfriend.
But much of the focus Thursday was on the grieving families who'd lost their own loved ones in a senseless shooting at the mall.
Despite the first major snowstorm of the season, several hundred people squeezed into the pews at St. John's Church on the campus of Creighton University.
Father Andy Alexander said the tragic events "changed our consciousness about Omaha." Friends and acquaintances of Hawkins describe him as an outcast who struggled with depression. Alexander urged those at the service to show compassion for people who suffer rejection.