OMAHA, Neb. – A teenage gunman carried his AK-47 into a Nebraska department store, took the elevator up to the third floor and immediately opened gunfire on innocent customers and store employees, officials said Thursday.
The victims, ranging from ages 24 to 66, sought cover in dressing rooms and clothing racks at the Westroads Mall but lost their lives at the hands of a 19-year-old gunman.
The incident left eight dead and five wounded before the shooter, Robert A. Hawkins, killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot, Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren said.
Hele Spivack, a customer, ran into a dressing room to seek refuge from the shooter.
“I turned my cell phone onto vibrate because I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself,” Spivack told FOX News.
Spivack heard the shots getting closer and then it was quiet. Police soon rescued her and she saw the shooter lying in a pool of blood.
The shooter left behind a suicide note that read, in part, "sorry for everything," and "Now I'll be famous." Hawkins recently broke up with his girlfriend and lost his job at McDonald's. He also had a criminal record.
"These were innocent people going about their daily lives, performing their jobs and shopping for the holidays," Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey said at a Thursday press conference, describing the gunman as a "deeply disturbed individual." "They were men and women who did not deserve the fate they were given."
The victims appeared to be selected at random, Warren said. Five females and four males were killed, including the gunman. Six of the victims were store employees.
A surveillance tape may provide more clues in the ongoing investigation to reconstruct the incident, Warren said. Hawkins used an AK-47 that he stole from his stepfather, Warren added.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman ordered flags flown at half-staff through Sunday in honor of the victims and their families.
The customers killed were Gary Scharf, 48 of Lincoln and John McDonald, 65, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The employees killed were Angie Schuster, 36, of Omaha; Maggie Webb, 24; Janet Jorgensen, 66 of Omaha; Diane Trent, 53 of Omaha; Gary Joy, 56 of Omaha; and Beverly Flynn, 47, of Omaha, police said.
Nebraska Medical Center spokeswoman Andrea McMaster said the hospital had three victims from the mall shooting, including Fred Wilson, 61, who was in critical condition early Thursday with a bullet wound to his chest.
Micky Oldham, 65, was in stable condition at Creighton University Medical Center. Oldham, who was shot once in the abdomen and once in the back, underwent surgery Wednesday to repair injuries, Dr. Leon Sykes said.
Meanwhile, investigators reviewing Hawkins' past discovered that he left his family's home about a year ago and moved in with a friend's family. Debora Maraca-Kovac and her husband welcomed Hawkins into their 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 told The Associated Press.
She told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her an SKS semiautomatic Russian military rifle — the same type used in the shooting. She said she thought the gun belonged to a member of Hawkins' family. She said she didn't think much of it — the gun looked too old to work.
Records in Sarpy and Washington counties showed Hawkins had a felony drug conviction and several misdemeanor cases filed against him, including an arrest 11 days before the shooting for having alcohol as a minor. He was due in court in two weeks.
Maruca-Kovac said Hawkins had recently broken up with a girlfriend and was fired from McDonald's. She told the World-Herald that Hawkins said he had been fired after being accused of stealing $17 from his till at the restaurant. McDonald's management declined to comment to the newspaper.
Maruca-Kovac said he phoned her at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, telling her he had left a note. She tried to get him to explain.
"He said, 'It's too late,"' and hung up, she told CNN. She then called Hawkins' mother.
Maruca-Kovac went to her job as a nurse at the Nebraska Medical Center, where victims of the shooting soon began to arrive.
The first 911 call came in at 1:42 p.m., and the shooting was already over when police arrived six minutes later, authorities said.
"We sent every available officer in the city of Omaha," Sgt. Teresa Negron said. "They came to the mall in lights and sirens."
The World-Herald reported that the gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest.
Hawkins opened fire in a Von Maur store, part of a Midwestern chain. The mall will remain closed on Thursday while authorities conduct their investigation.
Mickey Vickory, who worked in the store's third-floor service department, said she heard shots and went with coworkers and customers into a back closet, emerging about a half-hour later when police shouted to come out with their hands up. As police led 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."
On Wednesday night, police used a bomb robot to access a Jeep Cherokee left in the mall parking lot that authorities believe belonged to Hawkins. Officers had seen some wires under some clothing, but no bomb was found.
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.
It 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. The gunman, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
The shooting spree was Nebraska's deadliest since January 1958, when Charles Starkweather killed 10 people in Nebraska and another in Wyoming.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.