Mall that was scene of shooting in Omaha reopens with tighter security - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mall that was scene of shooting in Omaha reopens with tighter security

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - People returned to the Westroads Mall on Saturday, most to shop for the holidays but some to grieve in the place where a young gunman killed eight people and himself three days earlier.

Within the mall, however, the Von Maur department store where 19-year-old Robert Hawkins fired an AK-47 on Wednesday remained closed.

A makeshift memorial had been assembled at its inside entrance. Wreaths sat on tripods just outside the doors and a note from management said the store will reopen soon. No date was given.

"I come out here almost every morning, and (today) it was kind of just an eerie feeling of, I don't know, quiet," said Marge Andrews, 49, who regularly walks the mall with a friend. She and her husband John, 51, came Saturday to buy Christmas presents - sporting goods for their sons, volleyball clothes for their daughter.

"It doesn't feel like a Christmas feeling," John Andrews said.

A few police cars were visible in the parking lot. Two Red Cross vans and a Salvation Army unit were set up outside a mall entrance, greeting people with doughnuts, coffee and offers of grief counseling.

Police acknowledged there was extra security in the area but said they couldn't discuss specifics. Normal mall security guards were unarmed.

Hawkins' family released a statement through the Rev. Mark Miller of Faith Presbyterian Church in La Vista in which they said they hope the community can heal.

"The Hawkins family extends its sincerest condolences to all those impacted by this senseless and horrible event," the statement read. "While no words can ease the pain and grief, our family prays that at some time, in some way, our community can be healed in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy."

Prosecutors say Hawkins had been allowed to walk away from state-mandated care in the summer of 2006 - four years of treatment and counseling, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars - but not because he was prepared to face society on his own.

"There was really nothing more that we could offer him that he was willing to participate in," said Sandra Markley, Sarpy County's lead juvenile prosecutor.

Hawkins became a ward of the state through Sarpy County Juvenile Court in 2002, after a stay in a Missouri treatment facility for threatening to kill his stepmother.

"They invested a lot of time and effort," in Hawkins, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said of the state, courts and others who oversaw the troubled young man for four years, "and determined he's not going to respond."

"I suspect, maybe pessimistically, many people in the case thought at the time 'we'll see him again.' I hate to say that, but we do that every day."

The juvenile court system could have maintained oversight of Hawkins for nine more months because he hadn't yet turned 19 - that occurred last May. However prosecutors, defense lawyers and Hawkins' state-appointed guardians all agreed that wasn't worth it.

During his years as a state ward, Hawkins was diagnosed with depression, attention deficit disorder, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and a disorder characterized by negativity and hostility toward authority figures. He was convicted of third-degree assault and for offering to sell drugs at school.

Yet he did progress from residential treatment in a secure environment to a foster home and eventually to his father. And prosecutors say his criminal record while under court supervision wasn't remarkable.

If Hawkins had been suicidal and indicated that he might hurt someone, he could have been confined for a psychiatric evaluation.

"Unfortunately, we had no evidence that he presented a threat," Markley said.

Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey greeted shoppers and reassured retailers that the city stood behind them as they struggled to regain momentum during their make-or-break holiday shopping season.

"I came in here and I was wondering how I would feel about it, but I feel fine," Fahey said. "I did not necessarily look at Von Maur ... but I feel fine."

The mall is safe, the mayor said. "We have a lot officers on duty, and they will be on duty all day long," he said.

The Von Maur company, which operates stores across the Midwest, said it had established a memorial fund with the local United Way for the shooting victims and their families and invited public contributions. It also said it was helping families of the eight victims with funeral arrangements and grief counseling.

Police said Hawkins, 19, of nearby Bellevue, fired more than 30 rounds inside Von Maur, striking 11 people. Six died where they fell, one died on the way to a hospital and another died at a hospital. Three other people were wounded, two seriously.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

Powered by Frankly