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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Omaha today, police chief Thomas Warren read the names of the dead from the Westroads Mall shooting.

Mr. THOMAS WARREN (Chief, Omaha Police): Angie Shuster - Date of birth: 2-14-1971, store employee; Maggie Webb - Date of birth: 12-19-1982, store employee.

BLOCK: The brunt of the attack fell on employees of the Von Maur department store. Six of the eight people killed worked there. As more details about the shooting emerged today, there were numerous prayer vigils across eastern Nebraska as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: As you drive into Omaha in Interstate 80 and cross the Missouri River, a huge sign across the highway says, Nebraska, the good life. That life, that sense of heartland security was shattered yesterday by a troubled teenager with a Soviet-era assault rifle.

Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey called the shooting an ugly act of cowardice.

Mayor MIKE FAHEY (Democrat, Omaha): Yesterday, our community suffered one of the most horrific tragedies ever to occur in the state of Nebraska.

BEAUBIEN: 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. Police say Hawkins stole the assault rifle from his stepfather. They're still investigating where he got the two clips of ammunition that each held 30 rounds. Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren says mall security guards were tracking Hawkins on surveillance cameras because he appeared to be behaving strangely. Police Chief Warren says Hawkins concealed the assault riffle in a sweatshirt until he got inside an elevator.

Mr. WARREN: He took the elevator to the third floor. And upon exiting the elevator, he immediately started firing shots.

BEAUBIEN: The police said Hawkins left several voicemail, text and written messages prior to the shooting. Officials also disclosed that he 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.

(Soundbite of people singing)

BEAUBIEN: Across Omaha today, people gathered for prayer services for Hawkins' victims. 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, in his words, changed our consciousness about Omaha. Friends and acquaintances of Hawkins describe him as an outcast who struggled with depression. Father Alexander urged those at the service to show compassion for people who suffer rejection.

Father ANDY ALEXANDER (Pastor, St. John's Church): We can't know how rejection leads to violence.

BEAUBIEN: Police say Hawkins had recently just lost his job at McDonald's and his girlfriend. But across eastern Nebraska, much of the focus today was on the grieving families who had lost their own loved ones in a senseless shooting at the mall.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Omaha.

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