OMAHA, Neb. - A 20-year-old man opened fire with a rifle at a busy department store yesterday, killing eight people before taking his own life in an attack that made some holiday shoppers run screaming through a mall and barricade themselves in dressing rooms.
The shooter, who left a note predicting "now I'll be famous," wounded five others, two critically, then took his own life.
Witnesses said he fired down on shoppers from a third-floor balcony of the Von Maur store in the Westroads Mall, in a prosperous neighborhood on the city's west side.
Keith Fidler, a Von Maur employee, said he heard a burst of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 more rounds.
Kevin Kleine, 29, who was shopping with her 4-year-old daughter, said: "My knees rocked. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else." She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.
The gunman was identified as Robert A. Hawkins, according to friends and a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it. Hawkins was found dead on the third floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. His victims were discovered on the second and third floors.
After his family kicked him out, Hawkins lived for a little more than a year with a friend's family in a house in a middle-class Bellevue neighborhood, said Debora Maruca-Kovac, who owns the home.
"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 said.
She said Hawkins was fired from his job at a nearby McDonald's this week and had recently broken up with a girlfriend. She said he phoned her about 1 p.m. yesterday, telling her that he had left a note for her in his bedroom.
In the note, Hawkins wrote that he was "sorry for everything," would not be a burden on his family anymore, and "now I'll be famous," the unidentified girlfriend said.
Sgt. Teresa Negron said the gunman killed eight people, then apparently killed himself. Authorities gave no motive for the attack.
The Von Maur store is part of a 22-store Midwestern chain. The sprawling, three-level mall has more than 135 stores and restaurants. It gets 14.5 million visitors every year, according to its Web site.
Omaha police received a 911 call from someone inside the mall, and shots could be heard in the background, Negron said. By the time officers arrived six minutes later, the shooting was over, she said.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that the gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest.
A Von Maur employee, Belene Esaw-Kagbara, 31, recalled: "Everybody was scared, and we didn't know what was going on. We didn't know what to do. I was praying that God protect us."
Mickey Vickory, who worked at Von Maur's third-floor service department, said she heard shots at about 1:50 p.m. She and her coworkers and customers went into a back closet behind the wrapping room to hide, then emerged about a half-hour later when police shouted to come out with their hands up. As police took them to another part of the mall for safety, they saw the victims.
President Bush was in Omaha yesterday for a fund-raiser, but left about an hour before the shooting.
Yesterday's shooting was the second mass shooting at a mall this year. In February, nine people were shot, five of them fatally, at Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City.