Teen had troubled past
The gunman who killed eight and himself at a mall had threatened his stepmother in 2002.
Published December 7, 2007
OMAHA, Neb. - The young man who killed eight people and committed suicide in a shooting rampage at a department store spent four years in treatment centers, group homes and foster care after threatening to kill his stepmother in 2002.
Finally, in August 2006, social workers, the courts and his father all agreed: It was time for Robert Hawkins to be released - nine months before he turned 19 and would have been required to leave anyway.
The group homes and treatment centers were for youths with substance abuse, mental or behavioral problems. Altogether, the state spent about $265,000 on Hawkins, officials said.
On Thursday, while some of those who knew Hawkins called the massacre Wednesday at a busy Omaha mall unexpected, not everyone was surprised.
"He should have gotten help. ... Someone should have listened to him," said Karissa Fox, who said she knew Hawkins through a friend.
Todd Landry, state director of children and family services, said court records do not show precisely why Hawkins was released. But he said if Hawkins should not have been set free, someone would have raised a red flag.
"It is my opinion, it was not a failure of the system to provide appropriate services," Landry said. "If that was an issue, any of the participants in the case would have brought that forward."
After reviewing surveillance tape, a suicide note and Hawkins' last conversations with those close to him, police said they don't know - and may never know - exactly why Hawkins went to the Von Maur store at Westroads Mall and shot more than a dozen people.
But he clearly planned, walking through the store, exiting, then returning a few minutes later with a gun concealed in a balled-up sweatshirt he was carrying, authorities said.
Debora Maruca-Kovac, who with her husband took Hawkins into their home because he had no other place to live, told the Omaha World-Herald that the night before the shooting, Hawkins and her sons showed her a semiautomatic rifle. She said she thought the gun looked too old to work.
Police believe Hawkins was using that AK-47 when he stormed off a third-floor elevator at the store and started shooting.
Police said they have found no connections between the 19-year-old and the six employees and two shoppers he killed.
"The shooting victims were randomly selected," as was the location of the shooting, Omaha police Chief Thomas Warren said.
Acquaintances said that Hawkins was a drug user and that he had a history of depression. In 2005 and 2006, according to court records, he underwent psychiatric evaluations, the reasons for which Landry would not disclose, citing privacy rules.
In May 2002, he was sent to a treatment center in Waynesville, Mo., after threatening his stepmother. Four months later, a Nebraska court decided Hawkins' problems were serious enough that he should be under state supervision and made him a ward of the state. He went through a series of institutions in Nebraska and was released from state custody on Aug. 21, 2006.
Under state law, Landry said, wards are released when all sides - parents, courts, social workers - agree it is time for them to go. Once Hawkins was set free, he was no longer under state supervision, and was not released into anyone's custody.
"When our role is ended, we try to step out," said Chris Peterson, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
About an hour before the shootings, Hawkins called Maruca-Kovac and told her he had written a suicide note, Maruca-Kovac said. In the note, Hawkins wrote that he was "sorry for everything" and would not be a burden on his family anymore. More ominously, he wrote: "Now I'll be famous."
[Last modified December 7, 2007, 02:08:46]
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