The next morning, a couple of fellow producers and I went on a round of obligatory door-knockings, at his father and mother's house, where there was no answer -- just a flurry of business cards from various network and cable news producers stuck in the closed doors, their Christmas wreaths now serving as a barrier against the outside world. Then, we moved on to the northern outskirts of Omaha, to the foster home where Robbie had lived for more than a year.
There, we met a young man who'd been Robbie's older foster brother for a year. He told us his mother had raised 10 children of her own on these flat plains, and had also taken in several foster kids over the years. There was nothing particularly memorable about Robbie, he said, but looking around, one wondered what it must have been like to suddenly to be plunked down in this alien place, to start a new school and try to make a new life, leaving behind his bad habits and violent outbursts.
Maruca-Kovac told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her a semi-automatic rifle. She said she thought the gun looked too old to work. She turned out to be wrong about that. About an hour before the shootings, Robbie called Maruca-Kovac and told her he had written a suicide note.
As we made our way along the snowy interstate highways that crisscross Omaha, we carried the reminder that a dear colleague, veteran cameraman Ralph Binder, had died in a car crash on his way from Denver to cover the story. Ralph had driven the flat landscape of I-80 hundreds of times, in all kinds of conditions, including Thursday's sudden snowstorm. His death felt as random and senseless as those of eight people who happened to be working or shopping at the Von Maur department store Wednesday afternoon, when the thin young man could be seen on the surveillance footage the store, tentatively surveying the scene.
Mall security trained their cameras on him, at first fearing he might be a holiday season shoplifter. But he left, returning six minutes later with a gun hidden in a balled-up sweatshirt. The choice of the mall and the victims appeared to be random, police said. Hawkins chose to take out his rage by firing more than 30 rounds at strangers, not family or those he might have felt let him down.
By Thursday evening, the chain restaurants across from Von Maur's had reopened, the diners at the Cheesecake Factory perhaps a little quieter than usual. The mall opened Saturday.
All that visibly remained of the tragedy before the mall's reopening was a small memorial outside Von Maur's, which will stay closed indefinitely. One handwritten sign on the store's front steps read, "I walked out of here on Wednesday. Pray for those who didn't."
This weekend there will be wakes and funerals, and endless grief -- and no good answers.
As Robbie himself wrote, something snapped. All the schools, treatment centers, foster homes and counselors couldn't help put him back together, and make him whole.
Now, his lasting image will be him taking aim against the world. The name Robert Hawkins is etched into the spreading national landscape of mall and school shootings, another bitter reminder, as if one is needed, that lost souls with weapons and a will to kill can make a name for themselves, at least for a few days, as the rest of us traverse the frozen plains, knocking on doors, looking for answers to a cold, hard piece of meanness in this world.