Families Struggle to Forgive Shooter

Employees, their families and friends planned to gather Friday at the steps of the Von Maur department store in remembrance of the eight people killed a year ago in the deadliest mall shooting in U.S. history.

“I carry the visible signs of Dec. 5,” said 62-year-old Fred Wilson, who nearly died that day. “Other employees saw things I didn’t. They may carry their wounds on the inside.”

Wilson went back to work part-time at the mall after Memorial Day. He says there was never any question in his mind that he should be there.

He can no longer wrap gifts at work – his right arm is still in a sling, and he can barely move his fingers.

“I came to a degree of forgiveness … when I was in the hospital,” Wilson said. He tries to help others learn how to forgive, speaking at churches and schools and seminars.

“I was blessed to have lived,” he said. For those whose loved ones did not, he understands it’s a different story.

Nineteen-year-old Robert Hawkins gunned down eight people on Dec. 5, 2007, before turning the gun on himself.

Hawkins entered the Von Maur department store in west Omaha and briefly looked around before exiting. He returned a few minutes later with an assault-style rifle hidden under his sweatshirt.

He took an elevator to the third floor and opened fire.

Police found no connection between Hawkins and his targets, only a suicide note that said he wanted “to take a few peices (sic) of (expletive) with me.”

The upscale department store, decked with Christmas decorations, lost six employees that day. Two customers also were killed.

Ron Jorgensen lost his wife of “50 years and three months.” Her voice remains on his telephone answering machine. The American flag continues to wave at half-staff in his front yard.

“I’ve lost everything,” he said. “I will never forgive Robbie Hawkins or his parents.”

Greg O’Neil prefers not to even speak Hawkins’ name.

“I don’t know when, or if ever I’ll ever be able to forgive him,” he said. “I can’t even put those words into a sentence including that person.”

O’Neil worked at Von Maur as a loss-prevention manager for nearly five years before finding a new job in 2006, so he knew most of the people killed or injured. He left his job so he could date employee Angie Schuster without violating company rules. They later got engaged.

“Just remembering her smile. Oh, her smile,” he said. Her belongings still fill his home. He visits her grave every couple of weeks.

On Friday, Von Maur employees have the option of taking the day off, said company president Jim von Maur.

“We don’t want to put pressure on those employees who don’t feel they can do it,” he said.

In Moline, Ill., the family of the youngest victim planned to gather to remember the good times they had with Maggie Webb, who also worked at the store.

“We’re going to encourage friends and family to light a candle,” said Webb’s sister, Bre Clark. “And we’re going to light a bonfire and shine a light to her in heaven.”

But forgiveness isn’t likely to be mentioned. Clark doesn’t believe she could offer that to Hawkins.

“I honestly believe forgiveness is something that the killer needs to ask for from the Lord and not from me,” she said.

Hawkins was well-known in the state’s juvenile courts and social services agencies. A habitual drug user and troublemaker, he was in and out of foster homes.

During his time as a state ward, he was diagnosed with depression, attention deficit disorder, impulsiveness and a malady characterized by hostility toward authority figures. He was convicted of third-degree assault and attempting to sell drugs at school.

Hawkins spent four years in a series of treatment centers, group homes and foster care after threatening to kill his stepmother in 2002. Before the shooting, he had broken up with a girlfriend and lost his job at a McDonald’s.

A year after Hawkins’ deadly rampage, Von Maur employees try to busy themselves with the holiday shopping season. Security guards stand on the balconies. A plaque at the bottom of the escalator memorializes the victims.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


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