Mall Reopens After Deadly Massacre

Shoppers in Omaha filled Westroads Mall three days after gunfire emptied it.

There were hugs and tears from mall employees. And the usual pre-Christmas shopping frenzy was replaced by a more subdued, respectful mood among customers.

"I don't think you can just sit back and wait," said customer Anita Coufan, explaining why she came to the mall. "This is part of the healing process."

The Von Maur Department store, where shooter Robert Hawkins gunned down eight people, remained closed. At entrances to the store, mourners left ribbons, wreaths, paper snowflakes and other items to express their sadness and resolve.

"I'm just here to show my support," said shopper Cindy Fry, "and to let [Hawkins] know that it's not going to stop me or my kids from coming here to the mall."

Westroads has been a fixture in the Omaha community for nearly 40 years. It's the largest and busiest mall in Nebraska, and many folks in this community said they felt a personal stake in its survival.

"This is important to us," shopper Dawn Green said plainly.

Why Hawkins chose Westroads to carry out his rampage remains unclear. Few clues can be gleaned from the chilling Von Maur surveillance tape, which shows Hawkins taking aim at shoppers with a semi-automatic rifle as terrified witnesses scramble for the exits.

Hawkins' family members said in a statement released to The Associated Press today through the Rev. Mark Miller of Faith Presbyterian Church in La Vista, Neb., that they hope relatives of the victims can heal.

"The Hawkins family extends its sincerest condolences to all those impacted by this senseless and horrible event," the statement read, according to the AP. "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."

Investigators are also poring over a rambling, three-page letter Hawkins handwrote to friends and family. In it, Hawkins is apologetic, sad, and dejected.

"I know everyone will remember me as some sort of monster," Hawkins wrote, foreshadowing the mall massacre. "I can't take this meaningless existence anymore. I've been a constant disappointment. And that trend would have only continued."

But why did Hawkins' sadness turn to homicidal rage?

Dr. David Kahn, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, said feelings of helplessness can -- in extreme cases -- lead to desperate and violent acts of control.

"They feel puny," Khan said. "They feel insignificant. They feel the world has rejected them. And this is a way of exerting power."

For the people here, difficult days remain. But for many, the re-opening of Omaha's signature mall was a small step forward.