New details surfaced Thursday about the young man who killed eight people before turning his gun on himself.
Witness Jodi Longmeyer saw the gunman step off the mall elevator on the third floor. He was dressed in dark clothes. She saw his gun, watched him open fire.
Then she hit the floor.
Robert A. Hawkins' rampage was over in six minutes. But Longmeyer agonized with a 911 operator for almost 30 minutes while barricading herself in an employee locker room at the Von Maur store.
"I just saw someone up here in the locker room and she's got a lot of blood on the floor," Longmeyer told the dispatcher in 911 tapes released Thursday.
Minutes later, shaking and scared, Longmeyer, who is a human resources manager at Von Mauer, locked herself into a security room where she watched live surveillance of the department store.
"Oh my gosh," she told the dispatcher. "It looks like the gun is lying over by customer service. It looks like he might have killed himself," Longmeyer said as she started to cry.
Longmeyer's account, one of more than a dozen 911 calls placed during Wednesday's shooting, offered new details about what happened inside the upscale shopping mall on Omaha's west side.
And yet the rampage was as troubling as it was puzzling for those who knew him personally.
Hawkins was a high school dropout with a criminal past, and had struggled to overcome depression. But friends thought he was making strides.
Then, about two weeks ago, he lost his girlfriend. A week later, it was his job. His friends worried he would regress.
It was simply because Hawkins, 19, had been in trouble before. State officials said Hawkins spent four years in a series of treatment centers, group homes and foster care after threatening to kill his stepmother in 2002.
Finally, in August 2006, social workers, the courts and his father all agreed: It was time for Hawkins to be released – nine months before he turned 19 and would have been required to leave anyway.
The group homes and treatment centers were for youths with substance abuse, mental or behavioral problems. Altogether, the state spent about $265,000 on Hawkins, officials said.
The aftermath of Wednesday's killings, left some who knew Hawkins questioning if more should have been done.
"He should have gotten help, but I think he needed someone to help him and needed someone to be there when in the past he's said he wanted to kill himself," said Karissa Fox, who said she knew Hawkins through a friend. "Someone should have listened to him."
Todd Landry, state director of children and family services, said court records do not show precisely why Hawkins was released. But he said if Hawkins should not have been set free, an official would have raised a red flag.
"It was not a failure of the system to provide appropriate services," Landry said. "If that was an issue, any of the participants in the case would have brought that forward."
Acquaintances said that Hawkins was a drug user and that he had a history of depression. In 2005 and 2006, according to court records, he underwent psychiatric evaluations, the reasons for which Landry would not disclose, citing privacy rules.
In May 2002, he was sent to a treatment center in Waynesville, Mo., after threatening his stepmother. Four months later, a Nebraska court decided Hawkins' problems were serious enough that he should be under state supervision and made him a ward of the state.
He went through a series of institutions in Nebraska as he progressed through the system: months at a treatment center and group home in Omaha in 2003; time in a foster care program and treatment center in 2004 and 2005; then a felony drug-possession charge later in 2005. Landry said the court records do not identify the drug.
The drug charge was eventually dropped, but he was jailed in 2006 for not performing community service as required.
On Aug. 21, 2006, he was released from state custody.
Under state law, Landry said, wards are released when all sides - parents, courts, social workers - agree it is time for them to go. Once Hawkins was set free, he was entirely on his own. He was no longer under state supervision, and was not released into anyone's custody.
"When our role is ended, we try to step out," said Chris Peterson, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
And yet tragedy still struck. About an hour before the shootings, Hawkins called Debora Maruca-Kovac, a woman who with her husband took Hawkins into their home because he had no other place to live. With Hawkins living in her home, she observed that he had a drinking problem, and was an occasional marijuana smoker. But he enjoyed music and video games – “normal teenager stuff,” she said.
"He was depressed, and he had always been depressed," Maruca-Kovac said. "But he looked like was getting better."
But, unfortunately, he wasn’t.
He told her he had written a suicide note, Maruca-Kovac said. In the note, Hawkins wrote that he was "sorry for everything" and would not be a burden on his family anymore.
But Maruca-Kovac said she saw nothing foreshadowing the horror Hawkins would inflict during his last moments alive. She remembered a gentle young man who loved animals. She regarded him so benignly that when he showed her an SKS semiautomatic rifle the night before his attack, she thought little of it, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
But she had a feeling of despair soon after she learned about Wednesday shootings.
"I had a feeling it could be him," she said.
And in fact, it was.
The shoppers killed were Gary Scharf, 48, of Lincoln, and John McDonald, 65, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The employees killed were Angie Schuster, 36; Maggie Webb, 24; Janet Jorgensen, 66; Diane Trent, 53; Gary Joy, 56; and Beverly Flynn, 47, all of Omaha.