OMAHA, Neb. - Robert Hawkins had been kicked out of his family`s house, fired from McDonald`s and had broken up with his girlfriend.
Hawkins left a suicide note Wednesday at the home where he had been living. It said he wouldn`t be a burden on his family any more and "now I`ll be famous," according to Debora Maruca, who owns the home.
Armed with a rifle, he went to the sprawling Westroads Mall, filled with shoppers. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest.
Witnesses said the gunman fired on shoppers from a third-floor balcony of the Von Maur store. Terrified shoppers and workers ran to safety.
Police had responded to a call of shots fired within six minutes, but said by then it was all over.
The gunman 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 Sgt. Teresa Negron said.
Eight people, not including Hawkins, were killed. Five were wounded, two critically. It was Nebraska`s deadliest shooting spree since January 1958, when Charles Starkweather killed 10 people in that state and another in Wyoming.
A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak identified the gunman as Hawkins, of Bellevue, Neb.
Authorities gave no motive for the attack and said they did not know whether he said anything during the rampage at the mall, in a middle-class neighborhood on the city`s west side.
When gunshots rang out in the mall, it took a moment for many to realize what was going on. Shawn Vidlak thought it sounded like a nail gun on a construction job.
Then people "started screaming about gunshots," Vidlak said. "I grabbed my wife and kids, we got out of there as fast as we could."
"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. 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. "I was praying that God protect us."
Hawkins lived for a little more than a year with a friend`s family in a house in a middle-class Bellevue neighborhood after his family kicked him out, Maruca said.
"When he first came in the house, he was introverted, a troubled young man who was like lost pound puppy that nobody wanted," Maruca said.
She said Hawkins was fired from his job at a nearby McDonald`s this week and had recently broken up with a girlfriend.
Maruca said Hawkins phoned her early Wednesday afternoon, telling her he had left a note for her in his bedroom. She tried to get him to explain, but he hung up, she said.