Suicide killer had been fired from McDonald's

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The Independent US

The high-school dropout who killed eight people and then himself in a Nebraska shopping mall had just lost his girlfriend and a job at McDonald's and decided to end it all in a way that would make him famous, police and witnesses said yesterday.

Robbie Hawkins was described as a troubled 19-year-old who had moved from one temporary home to another since his parents split up when he was three.

He dropped out of high school last year, racked up a felony drug conviction and had been repeatedly arrested for various misdemeanours, most recently for being caught with alcohol under the age of 21. He was fired from McDonald's because he could not account for $14 missing from the till.

Shortly after lunch on Wednesday, he wrapped a sweatshirt around a Russian semi-automatic rifle similar to a Kalashnikov, donned a camouflage jacket and a backpack, and made his way to the Westroads Mall in a well-to-do area of Omaha. It was packed with Christmas shoppers.

He took a lift up to the second floor of the Von Maur's department store and began shooting, first a volley of five or six shots and then 15-20 rounds more. He killed six store employees and two shoppers ranging in age from 24 to 66 before turning the weapon on himself.

It was over so quickly that, by the time police arrived six minutes later, there was nothing left for them to do other than pick up the bodies of the dead and injured. Terrified shoppers had hidden in dressing rooms and store cupboards. Others had picked up their children and ran for their lives.

Omaha's police chief Thomas Warren described the shootings as "very random and without provocation"and said there was nothing anybody could have done to stop them. "When you have an incident of this nature, it may be impossible come up with an explanation," he told reporters.

The woman who had hosted Hawkins in her house for the past year and a half, Debora Maruca-Kovac, had plenty of information on the young man, however, including a suicide note and a will that she found after receiving a phone call from Hawkins less than an hour before the shootings began.

Ms Maruca-Kovac said she agreed to take in Hawkins because he was friends with her son Will. "When he first came in the house, he was introverted, a troubled young man who was like a lost puppy that nobody wanted," she told the Associated Press. He felt unable to stay with his own family because of problems with his stepmother.

Ms Maruca-Kovac was heartened, however, when he had his shaggy hair cut, got himself a girlfriend and the McDonald's job.

The night before the shootings he showed Maruca-Kovac his Russian SKS rifle, but she thought it was so old it could not possibly work. Police believe he may have stolen the weapon from his stepfather. Ms Maruca-Kovac said she had considered the possibility he was suicidal, but never imagined he'd harm anyone else.

In the phone call,he explained he had just been fired from McDonald's. "I said, 'Come home and we'll talk about it,'" Ms Maruca-Kovac said. "He said, 'It's too late.' He said he'd left a note explaining everything."

The note offered an apology for what he was about to do, she said. "He didn't want to be a burden to people. [He wrote] that he was a piece of shit all his life and that now he'd be famous."