OMAHA, Neb. - A gunman opened fire at a busy Omaha mall Wednesday, killing at least eight people, wounding at least five others and then killing himself, police officials said.
The gunman left a suicide note that was found at his home, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak. Police told NBC affiliate WOWT-TV that the note said he was "going out in style."
The official identified the gunman as 19-year-old Robert A. Hawkins.
Witnesses said Hawkins pointed a rifle over a third-floor balcony and opened fire in the Von Maur department store at Westroads Mall.
A Von Maur employee said he heard a burst of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 shots. Witnesses said Hawkins appeared to be firing randomly. Authorities gave no motive for the attack and did not know whether he said anything during the rampage.
Police received a 911 call from someone inside the mall, and shots could be heard in the background, Negron said. By the time officers arrived six minutes later, the shooting was over, she said.
Hawkins was found dead on the third floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his victims were discovered on the second and third floors, police said. The Omaha World-Herald reported that he had a military-style haircut and a black backpack and wore a camouflage vest.
Negron said every officer in the city was sent to the mall.
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Sgt. Teresa Negron said Hawkins acted alone. Police locked the mall down after the attack. Officials were interviewing many witnesses in the facility.
At least seven people were taken to local trauma centers. Two of these people died from their injuries, and two others were in critical condition. There was no immediate word on the other victims' conditions.
Von Maur corporate headquarters in Davenport, Iowa, released a statement to the media. "We are deeply saddened by the horrific shooting at our Omaha store this afternoon," it said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragic event, as well as their families. We are cooperating fully with the Omaha and Nebraska state police departments."
'I'm going out in style'
Police told WOWT-TV that Hawkins was from Bellevue, Neb. He lived with another family, whose members were been barred from the home as police searched the residence, WOWT-TV reported. Bellevue is in Sarpy County, which is south of Omaha and is home to Offutt Air Force Base.
Hawkins' vehicle was found in the mall parking lot.
He had recently been homeless and was living with another family who had taken him in because he was friends with her sons, whom he knew from school, WOWT-TV reported.
Hawkins recently â€œgot a job and was getting on his feet,â€ said the woman who owns the home where Hawkins was living, whose name was being withheld pending the investigation. But Wednesday afternoon, â€œhe called very upset and said he'd gotten fired from his jobâ€ at a fast-food restaurant.
Neighbors said they had seen Hawkins coming and going but never thought he would ever have erupted in violence.
â€œI never expected anything like this to happen,â€ said Steven Burke, a neighbor. â€œI have one 17-year-old and two older kids â€” itâ€™s very terrifying."
The man had a police record and served seven days in jail for disorderly conduct last year, police told WOWT-TV.
Witnesses describe attack
Shoppers and employees ran screaming through the upscale mall and barricaded themselves in dressing rooms after hearing gunfire.
"My knees rocked. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else," said Kevin Kleine, 29, who was shopping with her 4-year-old daughter at the mall, in a prosperous neighborhood on the city's west side. She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.
"Everybody was scared, and we didn't know what was going on," said Belene Esaw-Kagbara, 31, a Von Maur employee. "We didn't know what to do. I was praying that God protect us."
Mickey Vickory, who worked at Von Maur's third-floor service department, said she heard shots at about 1:50 p.m.
She and her co-workers and customers went into a back closet behind the wrapping room to hide, then emerged about a half-hour later when police shouted to come out with their hands up. As police took them to another part of the mall for safety, they saw the victims.
"We saw the bodies and we saw the blood," she said.
A woman who answered the phone at an Old Navy store said earlier that 20 to 30 customers were huddled with employees in a back storeroom.
"All we know was people were running and screaming down the hallway by Von Maur saying there was a shooting, and then they locked us down," said the woman, who said her name was Heidi.
Shortly after the shooting, which came three weeks before Christmas, a group of shoppers came out of the building with their hands raised. Some were still holding shopping bags.
Police told people to park their cars at businesses across from the mall and to wait for their loved ones, then directed them to an Omaha hotel to await information.
Grenade found last week
WOWT-TV reported that authorities removed what officials described as a live grenade from the mallâ€™s parking lot Friday night. The circumstances of the case are under investigation. There was no indication that incident was related to Wednesday's shootings.
The shooting happened as President Bush was leaving Omaha, where he attended a fundraiser for Republican Senate candidate Mike Johanns.
"Having just visited with so many members of the community in Omaha today, the president is confident that they will pull together to comfort one another," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
The sprawling, three-level mall has more than 135 stores and restaurants, according to the Web site for General Growth Properties, the manager of the mall. It gets 14.5 million visitors every year, according to the Web site.
It was the second mass shooting at a mall this year. In February, nine people were shot, five of them fatally, at Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City. The gunman, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, was shot and killed by police.