Customers head without delay as doors reopened Thursday, the first time since the deadly rampage killed 8 people 15 days ago.
updated 12/20/2007 2:06:48 PM ET 2007-12-20T19:06:48

About 50 employees held hands and lined across a department store's entrance Thursday before parting to let a crowd of holiday shoppers enter for the first time since a gunman killed eight people there 15 days earlier.

Eight wreaths were placed near the entrance to memorialize the eight victims, and a blue ribbon crossing each wreath carried the message: "We remember."

Employees greeted customers at the entrance to the Von Maur store, and many immediately took escalators to the third floor, where Christmas ornaments and children's clothing are displayed, but also whether most of the victims were shot.

"We always think about the victims and their families," said Pamela Perry, 39. "But I'm not scared to go in the store."

Mary Lu Courtney, 75, said she was shopping for her 22 grandchildren. "I couldn't live without this store," she said.

Customers and employees talked together about the shootings. One cashier told customers that she was glad to smile again after thinking she would be unable to do so; some customers paused to look down from the central balcony in silence.

Von Maur officials asked reporters not to speak with store employees.

Von Maur President Jim von Maur said the company expected nearly all of its employees to return to their jobs at the store in the Westroads Mall. More security would be added, but no physical changes are planned on the store's third floor.

The Rev. Harry Buse of St. Leo Catholic Church in Omaha led a prayer before the opening, saying, "May this store again be not only a place of commerce but a place of giving."

Memorial planned
Von Maur wants to have a permanent memorial to the victims of the shooting but has not decided what form it will take. The department store, which paid its workers during the closure, has made counseling available to employees.

Fred Wilson, 61, a longtime manager of the customer service department at Von Maur, said he looks forward to returning to work once his injuries are healed. He was released from the hospital on Thursday to continue treatment at a rehabilitation center.

Wilson was shot from behind in his right arm, the bullet severing an artery and causing severe blood loss. Another bullet, or possibly shrapnel from the first one, struck his left hand.

Micky Oldham, another Von Maur employee who was wounded, was in fair condition at Creighton University Medical Center on Wednesday. The 65-year-old Omaha woman was shot in the back and abdomen.

A hospital spokesman said doctors weren't sure when she will be released. The third surviving victim, a shopper, was treated and released the day of the shooting.

The Westroads Mall reopened three days after the shooting in which 19-year-old Robert Hawkins fired more than 30 rounds, striking 11 people, before he killed himself.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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