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Omaha mall reopens with increased security

Three days after a gunman killed eight people and himself inside, a Nebraska mall reopened Saturday morning with extra security on hand and holiday shoppers waiting at the doors.
Image: An Omaha police car drives by an entrance to the Westroads Mall.
A police car drives by an entrance to the Westroads Mall Saturday in Omaha, Neb. The mall was reopened Saturday with increased security. The Von Maur store remained closed. Jeff Roberson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

With extra security on hand and holiday shoppers waiting at the doors, the Westroads Mall reopened Saturday morning, three days after a gunman killed eight people and himself at the mall’s Von Maur store.

A makeshift memorial of flowers, notes and poems covered about two-thirds of the bottom steps of the entrance gunman Robert Hawkins used to enter the Von Maur department store. On display were eight foam snowflakes, each with a picture of a victim.

The store, however, remained closed. Yellow holiday lights brightened the exterior, but black tarps draped the inside of the doors. Wreaths sat on tripods just outside, and a note from management said the store will reopen soon. No date was given.

Outside the mall, two Red Cross vans and a Salvation Army unit were set up near the food court entrance.

Early shoppers faced wind chill temperatures of only two degrees above zero before trickling into the food court or the mall proper, as retailers started raising their security gates at 8 a.m.

Marge Andrews, 49, said there was a very different feeling in the mall Saturday compared to her regular walks there with a friend. She and her husband John, 51, had come to buy sporting goods for their son and clothes for their daughter.

“I come out here almost every morning, and (today) it was kind of just an eerie feeling of, I don’t know, quiet,” said Andrews.

“It doesn’t feel like a Christmas feeling,” her husband said.

Also Saturday, Hawkins' family released a statement in which they said they hope the community can heal.

"The Hawkins family extends its sincerest condolences to all those impacted by this senseless and horrible event," the statement read. "While no words can ease the pain and grief, our family prays that at some time, in some way, our community can be healed in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy."

Mayor reassures shoppers
Mall security videotape released Friday shows Hawkins, 19, of nearby Bellevue, entering the Von Maur department store Wednesday, leaving, then returning about six minutes later, clutching his midsection as if hiding something and stalking toward the elevators.

Police did not release video from the third floor where Hawkins fired the gun. But a still image taken from the videotape shows Hawkins with his sleeves rolled up, aiming his AK-47.

He fired more than 30 rounds inside the crowded mall, striking 11 people. Six died where they fell, one died on the way to a hospital and another died despite 45 minutes of emergency treatment at another hospital. Three other people were wounded, two seriously.

A group hangs snowflakes and other decorations on the closed entrance to the Von Maur department store inside the Westroads Mall Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007, in Omaha, Neb. Eight people were killed and five wounded in a shooting attack before the gunman, Robert Hawkins, took his own life Wednesday inside the store. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)Jeff Roberson / AP

Mayor Mike Fahey greeted shoppers and reassured retailers that the city stood behind them as they struggled to regain momentum during their make-or-break holiday shopping season.

“I came in here and I was wondering how I would feel about it, but I feel fine,” Fahey said. “I did not necessarily look at Von Maur ... but I feel fine.”

The mall is safe, the mayor said. “We have a lot officers on duty, and they will be on duty all day long,” he said.

Extra security
Omaha police spokesman Bill Dropinski said he couldn’t discuss specifics, but that extra officers were in the area.

The Von Maur company, which operates stores across the Midwest, said it had established a memorial fund with the local United Way for the shooting victims and their families and invited public contributions. It also said it was helping families of the eight victims with funeral arrangements and grief counseling.