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Loved ones of Omaha mall victims pay respects

Relatives and friends began paying their final respects Sunday for the department store employees and shoppers who died after a gunman opened fire in Omaha's Westroads Mall on Wednesday.
Mall Shooting
Parishioners of St. John's Church pray during Mass on Sunday in Omaha.Jeff Roberson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Janet Jorgensen had recently helped her husband of 50 years through a battle with prostate cancer. Dianne Trent liked to tend the flowers on her porch and chat with her neighbor over tea. And nearly 40 years after they went to high school with him, friends remember Gary Joy as a quiet and shy gentleman.

Relatives and friends began paying their final respects Sunday for the three Von Maur department store employees, who died after a gunman opened fire in Omaha's Westroads Mall. Visitations were held for the three, as well as for John McDonald, a shopper also among the eight killed by suicidal teenager Robert Hawkins.

Loved ones, who remembered Jorgensen as a pillar of the family, gathered at a funeral home about four miles from the store. The 67-year-old Omaha woman, a 14-year store employee, was remembered as dedicated to her grandchildren and neighborhood.

"Her personality was wonderful. (She) was very loving and kind, and was very family oriented," Jorgensen's niece Karen Schaefer said Sunday.

Jorgensen enjoyed baking birthday cakes for every family member and fishing with her grandchildren, her family said. She was planning a wedding for one of her granddaughters and had recently helped ease her husband through his bout with cancer.

"The last few years I haven't been able to spend as much time, as I've had my family, but the time that we did have together was, you know, fun," said Schaefer, 48.

Jorgensen's survivors include her husband and 94-year-old mother, three children, and nine grandchildren, ages 7 to 28.

Cars overflowed from the parking lot of the funeral home, which was holding simultaneous visitations for Jorgensen and the 53-year-old Trent, also shot while working at the store.

‘A very incredibly sweet person’
Trent, 53, a store employee who tended flowers on her porch and chatted with her neighbor over tea, divorced many years ago and had no children, neighbor Errol Schlenker said. She lived in a northwest Omaha town house with two cats and a small dog.

"A very incredibly sweet person," Schlenker had said last week. "She was a middle-of-the-road American, a dedicated worker. She was just a decent person who lived a good life here."

A few miles north, a steady stream of Joy's friends, co-workers and relatives crept across snowy sidewalks to the Kremer Funeral home to pay their respects to the slain employee.

Members of the von Maur family and the ambulance crew that tried to revive Joy also attended. The 56-year-old was the first victim taken from the mall Wednesday, and hospital officials said he was dead on arrival.

"It's just such a tragedy," said Nancy Worm, a friend of Joy's mother.

His family included a poem by Jessie Home Fairweather in the program for his visitation: "And though your heart is longing for the dear one who's at rest, you'll know before the journey's end that God's dear ways are best!"

One of Joy's classmates at Bellevue High School in 1969 came to the visitation even though she hadn't seen Gary in some time. Cindy Edmunds said she remembers Joy as a quiet, shy teenager, not rambunctious.

"I came to pay my respects," she said. "There's nothing I can do other than that."

Joy, who had also lived in Denver, was divorced and had no children. Survivors include his older brother, Jim, and his mother, Inez Joy.

Funerals on Monday
The families had requested no media at Sunday's visitations. Wakes and vigils were planned Sunday night in anticipation of funerals Monday. Services for other victims were to be held in the next few days.

About 250 parishioners filled pews in St. John's Parish at Creighton University Sunday morning, where McDonald's funeral was to be held Monday. Candles labeled with the victims' names burned on two altars at the front of the sanctuary, near the hospital where victims were taken.

McDonald, 65, was shot as he tried to hide behind a chair on Von Maur's third floor with his wife and died before paramedics could reach him.

"What happened at the Westroads Mall last Wednesday happened to each and every one of us," the Rev. Bert Thelen said in his sermon. "That tragic sound (of gunshots) has echoed throughout the Omaha area, our country and even across the ocean."

Some people grieved at the mall itself, which had reopened Saturday. The Von Maur store itself did not open. Instead, a memorial of handmade paper snowflakes sprouted on security gates of the store's inner entrances, taped on by shoppers, mall employees and children.