A man opened fire in a busy Omaha, Neb., department store Wednesday, killing eight people and wounding five others before allegedly killing himself in an attack that sent holiday shoppers screaming through a mall as others barricaded themselves in dressing rooms.
Witnesses said the gunman fired down on shoppers from a third floor balcony of the Von Maur store. Police recovered an SKS assault rifle believed to have been used by the gunman.
The young shooter, identified by police as 20-year-old Robert A. Hawkins of Bellevue, Neb., left a suicide note which included the grim prediction: "Now I'll be famous."
Police have not said anything about the motive, if it is in fact known to them. But Hawkins had suffered a string of setbacks over the past year. A family friend says he recently broke up with a girlfriend and got fired, and a source tells CBS News affiliate KMTV that he tried, but failed, to get into the Army.
According to Sgt. Teresa Negron, police received a 911 call from someone inside the mall, and shots could be heard in the background. She says by the time officers arrived - six minutes later - the shooting was over.
"We sent every available officer in the city of Omaha," said Negron, who did not know whether the gunman said anything during the rampage to hint at a motive.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that the gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest.
"My knees rocked. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else," said Kevin Kleine, 29, who was shopping with her 4-year-old daughter at the Westroads Mall, in a prosperous neighborhood on the city's west side. She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.
Authorities say Hawkins was found dead on the third floor with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his victims were discovered on the second and third floors.
Hawkins dropped out of Papillion-La Vista High School in Papillion, Neb., in the spring of 2006 and was kicked out by his family that same year.
After staying at the homes of a number of friends for a few days at a time, he wound up moving in with the family of surgical nurse Debora Maruca-Kovac, who with her husband, took in Hawkins, a friend of her two teenaged sons.
"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.
Hawkins, according to Maruca-Kovac, was not on any medication for mental illness, but he had been treated in the past for depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
"He was depressed, and he had always been depressed," Maruca-Kovac said. "But he looked like he was getting better."
"He was a very helpful young man, but he was quiet," Maruca-Kovac said. "He didn't cause a lot of trouble. He tried to help out all the time. He was very thankful for everything. He wasn't a violent person at all."
Hawkins, she said, was gentle and loved animals, liked music and video games, but had a drinking problem and would occasionally smoke marijuana in his bedroom.
Maruca-Kovac says Hawkins recently suffered two new setbacks, breaking up two weeks ago with his longtime girlfriend, and earlier this week, getting fired from his job at a nearby McDonald's.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, he called Maruca-Kovac, telling her that he'd left a note for her in his bedroom. She says she tried to get him to explain, but he hung up.
Maruca-Kovac then called Hawkins' mother, who went to the Maruca-Kovacs' house and retrieved the note, which she took to authorities.
In the note, Hawkins wrote that he loved his parents and other family members, was "sorry for everything," would no longer be a burden to them, wanted his mom to have his Jeep, and his friends to have "whatever they want."
Maruca-Kovac did not hear about the shooting - which a witness said began around 1:50 p.m. - until she arrived at work at Nebraska Medical Center, where she saw patients being wheeled in.
"I had a feeling it could be him," said Maruca-Kovac, who had read the note before turning it over to his mother.
KMTV reports the dead include both shoppers and store employees.
"Everybody was scared, and we didn't know what was going on," said Belene Esaw-Kagbara, 31, a Von Maur employee. "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 co-workers 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.
"We saw the bodies and we saw the blood," she said.
Keith Fidler, another Von Maur employee, said he heard a burst of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 more rounds. Fidler said he huddled in the corner of the men's clothing department with about a dozen other employees until police yelled to get out of the store.
Witness Shawn Vidlak said the shots sounded like a nail gun. At first he thought it was noise from construction work at the mall.
"People started screaming about gunshots," Vidlak said. "I grabbed my wife and kids we got out of there as fast as we could."
Shortly after the shooting, a group of shoppers came out of the building with their hands raised.
Police told people to park their cars at businesses across from the mall and to wait for their loved ones, then directed them to a nearby hotel to await information.
Nebraska Medical Center spokeswoman Andrea McMaster said it had three victims from the mall shooting, including a 61-year-old man in critical condition with a bullet wound to his chest.
Three victims were brought Creighton University Medical Center; two died and the other was critically wounded, spokeswoman Lisa Stites said.
Wednesday evening, police used a bomb robot to search a Jeep Cherokee left in the mall parking lot. Authorities believe the vehicle belonged to Hawkins. Officers had seen some wires under some clothing, but no bomb was found.
President Bush was in Omaha on Wednesday for a fundraiser, but left about an hour before the shooting.
"Having just visited with so many members of the community in Omaha today, the president is confident that they will pull together to comfort one another," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
A Von Maur store executive tells KMTV that it has a policy in place for such emergencies and employees, within the past year, had gone through training on how to handle emergencies.
The store, along with the entire Westroads Mall in Omaha, will be closed Thursday. The mall itself is surrounded by yellow crime scene tape - nearly a mile of it.
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.
This was the second mass shooting at a mall this year. In February, nine people were shot, five of them fatally, atin Salt Lake City. The gunman, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, was shot and killed by police.