Of the eight murdered Wednesday at the Westroads Mall, six were Von Maur store employees, as are two of the wounded. An employee who escaped the carnage tells Channel 6 News she got a good look at the killer.
Mickey Vickroy says even after surviving, the aftermath she saw was like walking through a nightmare. Vickroy said Thursday she saw the shooter, Robert Hawkins.
"He was laying absolutely still, flat on his back with his hands down dressed in all black, black hair and I'll never forget the face because the face was like pure white. It was as if all the blood had drained out his face.”
Vickroy says a lot of Von Maur employees are scared to return to work.
Vickory, who worked at the third-floor service department, said Wednesday she heard shots at about 1:50 p.m. "It was 10 or 12 shots. We were praying. Every last one of us was praying."
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," Vickory said.
All the bodies were removed from the mall early Thursday morning.
The 19-year-old Hawkins, armed with a rifle, killed eight people and injured five others, two critically, before shooting himself to death.
Creighton University Medical Center confirms two fatalities there, one man and one woman. A third person, a woman, was in critical condition.
Three victims were taken to the Nebraska Medical Center. One had gunshot wounds to the armpit and finger, the other had cuts to the face. Both were treated and released.
A spokesman says the third victim, 61-year-old Fred Wilson, is in critical but stable condition. Wilson worked in customer service department at the Von Maur.
He had previously taught English at St. Albert in Council Bluffs and at schools in Shenandoah and Clear Lake, Iowa.
Witnesses said the gunman fired down on shoppers from a third-floor balcony of the Von Maur store using what police said was an SKS assault rifle they found at the scene.
The mall was locked down as the initial shooting report came out, but several people got out of the building shortly after the gunfire and many others followed later.
Law enforcement officers converged on the scene. The police helicopter circled overhead. Members of the Emergency Response Unit were on the scene with guns drawn.
"My knees rocked. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else," said Kevin Kleine who was shopping with her four-year-old daughter. She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.
Police found the first victim on the second floor, then several more near a customer service station on the third floor.
Hawkins was found dead on the third floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Hawkins was kicked out by his family about a year ago and moved in with a friend's family in a house in Bellevue said Debora Maruca-Kovac, who along with her husband took in Hawkins, a friend of her 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 told The Associated Press.
Maruca-Kovac said Hawkins was fired from his job at a McDonald's this week and had recently broken up with a girlfriend. She said he phoned her about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, telling her that he had left a note for her in his bedroom. She tried to get him to explain. "He said, 'It's too late,"' and hung up.
She told the AP she called Hawkins' mother, went to the Maruca-Kovacs' house and retrieved the suicide note, in which Hawkins wrote that he was "sorry for everything," would not be a burden on his family anymore and "I'm going out in style." The note also said, "now I'll be famous."
Authorities were searching both women's homes late Wednesday.
Maruca-Kovac said she took the note to authorities and went to her job as a nurse at the Nebraska Medical Center. Hours later, Maruca-Kovac said she saw victims being brought in.
Police received a 911 call from someone inside the mall and shots could be heard in the background, Sgt. Teresa Negron said. By the time officers arrived six minutes later, the shooting was over, she said. "We sent every available officer in the city of Omaha," Negron said.
"Everybody was scared and we didn't know what was going on," said Belene Esaw-Kagbara, a Von Maur employee. "We didn't know what to do. I was praying that God protect us."
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."
Teresa, an employee of JC Penney, says she got on a two-way radio and said, "If anyone can hear me, there's a man in the mall with a gun and he's shooting people."
"Connie," a Westroads shopper we spoke with on the phone, told us she heard the shots on the third floor of the mall. She said she hid and waited until the gunfire stopped and then crawled out of the building.
Eric, the father of a woman who is a security guard at the mall, got word around 3 p.m. that his daughter was not injured in the incident. She has been on the job for about a year and told her parents she saw one of the victims get shot.
"She called my wife. She was pretty upset," Eric told us.
Witness Chuck Wright says, "I heard this bang, bang, bang. And immediately I just froze. As I backed off, I heard bang, bang, again." Wright says he heard a total of 12 to 15 shots fired. "It was just panic. Nobody knew what was going on," Wright said.
Those who escaped the shooting remained at the scene on buses as police needed their help to piece together all the details. "We heard probably 15 to 20 gunshots, sounded like a huge banging noise," says Brianne Pinkerton.
“Because I wasn't sure if it was gunshots," said another woman.
"I thought if it was, we should get back into the back and then some more customers, a manger and other employees came back. We stayed back there. Unfortunately, the door didn't have a lock on it. So we pushed a ladder against the door."
And there were many others who were in lockdown and then left in a hurry. "I hear seven or eight shots and they said what is that and everyone said head for cover and I looked back and one of the guys was shot,” says Dave Cornwell, a Von Maur employee.
"We went to the corners of the building areas that seemed safe, dressing rooms and things like that."
Outside many who experienced the horror gathered waiting to be interviewed by police, all while supporting each other sharing an entire spectrum of human emotion.
"Scared, scared and shake, some people cry,” said shopper Andres Argyrakis. Images that Cornwell and likely everyone involved, will never forget. "Just sad, I think someone got shot in our building that worked for us."
By Wednesday evening, police were using a bomb robot to access a Jeep Cherokee left in the mall parking lot that belonged to Hawkins. Officers had seen some wires under some clothing, but no bomb was found.
Senator Ben Nelson issued a statement Wednesday evening saying, "Today the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska have endured a terrible tragedy. Though some of our neighbors have suffered devastating losses today, I know that they can count on the support of the Omaha community at this time. Diane and I send our thoughts and prayers out to the families and friends of the victims of today's terrible violence."
The shootings happened about an hour after President Bush left town.
On Wednesday evening the White House released the following statement:
"The President is deeply saddened by the shootings in Omaha, Nebraska earlier today. His thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this evening. 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 as they deal with this terrible tragedy."