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Family, friends remember Omaha mall victims

A priest told friends and family Monday at one of the first funerals for the eight victims of a gunman’s deadly department store rampage that they are not grieving alone.
Mall Shooting
Relatives and friends gather Monday around the casket of shooting victim Dianne Trent at Omaha's St. Leo Catholic Church.Jeff Roberson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A priest told friends and family Monday at one of the first funerals for the eight victims of a gunman’s deadly department store rampage that they are not grieving alone.

Funerals for Von Maur employees Janet Jorgensen, Dianne Trent, Gary Joy and shoppers John McDonald and Gary Scharf were taking place Monday. They were killed when Robert Hawkins, 19, unleashed a hail of bullets last Wednesday.

The Rev. Harry Buse presided over a Mass for Trent, 53.

“To be part of the sorrow of eight families grieving together is all the more overwhelming,” said Buse at St. Leo Catholic Church.

“It is like a whole city engaged in a huge group hug, embraced you and all grieving families into one common heartbeat of love and support,” he said. “It has been as if millions of hearts beat as one, sharing a sense of loss.”

Among about 700 mourners at Trent’s funeral was Wendy Nelson, a gift wrapper who worked with Trent in customer service at the Von Maur store. Nelson said she hid with other employees in a backroom during the rampage.

“For me, it’s time to stop running away from it,” Nelson said. “I was ready to come (the funeral) an hour and a half before it was going to start. My husband kept saying, ‘You don’t have to go yet.’ ... A lot of us are feeling like we have to do something.”

Trent tended flowers on her porch and chatted with her neighbor over tea, friends said. Divorced many years ago and with no children, Trent lived in a northwest Omaha town house with a small dog and two cats, neighbor Errol Schlenker said.

On Sunday, loved ones remembered Jorgensen, 67, at a visitation as someone who helped her husband fight cancer and found time to bake birthday cakes for relatives and go fishing with her grandchildren. The Omaha woman also was planning the wedding for one of her granddaughters.

“I’m just saddened that a wholesome person like her would be taken,” said Ken Jansen, speaking outside the service for Jorgensen.

White limousines and a hearse lined the circular drive outside St. John’s church at Creighton University before the service for McDonald, 65.

Police said Hawkins, of nearby Bellevue, fired more than 30 rounds with an AK-47 assault rifle on Thursday. He killed eight people, then himself.

The mall reopened Saturday, but Von Maur remains closed.

Shooter's family releases statement
Hawkins’ family expressed sorrow for the shootings and hope that the community could eventually be healed.

“The Hawkins family extends its sincerest condolences to all those impacted by this senseless and horrible event,” the family said in a statement released to The Associated Press on Saturday. “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.”

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.

Nelson, a seasonal Von Maur employee, said she would return to work when the store reopens. “I look forward to it every year,” she said.

Visitations were scheduled Monday for the three other shooting victims, Beverly Flynn, Angie Schuster and Maggie Webb. Their funerals were set for Tuesday.

Members or adherents of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., were protesting at some of the funerals. The church, founded by the Rev. Fred Phelps, has gained notoriety for picketing funerals of military men and women who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Among the group’s signs Monday was one that said “God sent the shooter.”