This has been a very trying week for what is ordinarily a very quiet place for creating national news of any kind and particularly this kind of national news.
My work place is only about a half mile from VonMaur and a favororite shopping spot during lunch hours. There has been a long and warm association among many of our 1100 employees spanning multi generations of children and grandchildren. We are not unique and the tragedy goes well beyond the initial horror of the event to the very real and personal loss of friends and loved ones. Omaha is still a very small town in that way and VonMaur represents to so many a vibrant slice of what is best about small town America, a family owned business with long time employees you come to see as friends.
So join me below the fold for what we learned and how we say good bye.
The memorial started with an email from a listener of Q98, a radio station.
"I dream that everyone went to Westroads to show their support. I saw thousands of people there taping handmade paper snowflakes up on the glass walls and the railings around the escalator atrium in VonMaur, I heard a voice say.....
These victims are like snowflakes falling outside.
They are unique and special individuals. Like us and all the other snowflakes, their lives were fragile.
But we WILL NOT let their memory melt away!
Like the snow that blankets our town, let our love and support blanket their families, friends, VonMaur, Westroads and our entire city.
Everywhere I looked there were snowflakes and I had tears in my eyes.
It literally snowballed and within a day thousands knew of the proposed memorial and wanted to participate.
Here are the pictures from early in the day taken by one of our employees who delivered part of our snowflakes, there are captions at the bottom of all. Regardless of what is reported, VonMaur remains closed and most do not expect to reopen soon, it is a staggering loss to the employees and healing will not be soon or easy. Come back after the photos and we will talk some more.....
Another Radio station brought tables and materials so everyone there would have an opportunity to add their snowflake.
As you can see they had a crowd around the tables and people making more snowflakes.
Gary Scharf, age 48, Lincoln, customer.
John McDonald, age 67, Council Bluffs, Iowa, customer.
Angie Schuster, age 36, employee.
Maggie Webb, age 24, employee.
Janet Jorgensen, age 66, employee.
Diane Trent, age 53, employee.
Gary Joy, age 50, employee.
Beverly Flynn, age 47, employee.
*Also dead is the shooter, 19-year-old Robert Hawkins of Bellevue.
From various sources
48-year old Gary Scharf of Lincoln was killed in the shooting spree Wednesday afternoon. Scharf was a customer at the Von Maur department store.
Scharf was a customer on the third-floor of department store Von Maur when he was caught in a barrage of gunfire that killed him and seven others.
Kim Scharf said her 48-year-old ex-husband was returning to Lincoln from a business trip in Iowa when he stopped at the Omaha mall. Scharf said he was an "honorable and loyal man" whom she saw every day and planned on remarrying. She said Scharf's most defining trait was helping others.
Steve Scharf said he found out about his father's death on Wednesday night.
"The last time we spoke on the phone, I was at work, and he said, 'I love you. You're at work and you think twice about saying it, and you know? I'm glad I did. 'I love you,' and that was important," Steve Scharf said. "Geez, we talk to each other every day. I know we love each other, and I thought about saying, 'We know, we don't really need to say it.' Now, I'm glad I never said that. 1 wouldn't take back one I love you. What I wouldn't give to talk to him once more."
Victim, Maggie Webb, would have celebrated her 25th birthday later this month, on Dec. 19.
At 24, Webb was the youngest of eight people killed by a 19-year-old gunman inside a busy Omaha mall Wednesday at the height of the holiday shopping season. Webb was an employee at Von Maur and was on the third floor when Robert Hawkins stepped out of an elevator with an assault rifle and sprayed the store with bullets.
The profile of a 24-year-old Maggie Webb in Omaha that appears on the online social network MySpace shows the woman had last checked her MySpace account a day before the mall shooting. Her mood was listed as "giggly" and the quote she chose to top her page reads: "You will only go as far as you let yourself."
Schuster was a manager in the girls' department on the third floor and had been with Van Maur for almost 10 years, according to her older sister Donna Kenkel. "She was in a very happy place in her life. She met a man," Kenkel said. "They were so happy."
Schuster's family issued a statement Thursday saying Angie was born in Dubuque Iowa on Feb. 14, 1971. She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1994 with a degree in Education. The statement said, "Angie was a very sweet and tender person and was loved by everyone that knew her. Angie was a devoted sister and aunt. She was very close to both of her sisters who live in Nebraska. "She was a wonderful aunt to her two nieces and her nephew. She really loved children and talked about her nieces and nephew all the time. She was in love with her boyfriend and very happy about the life they were planning together.
"Angie always kept in touch with all the friends she made throughout her life and had many devoted friends around the country that she knew from college and her childhood."
Schuster died at the scene of Wednesday's shooting.
"She probably didn't have any chance, any warning," Kenkel said, noting that Schuster's department was near the third-floor elevator.
"They said he got off the elevator, and she would have been right there in his way."
John McDonald shot while getting present wrapped at Von Maur
McDonald and his wife Kathy were waiting for a present to be wrapped at Von Maur.
John McDonald was shot and died before paramedics could reach him. He was 65.
The McDonalds, who are both retired, had two children and seven granddaughters.
Kathy McDonald said she and her husband met when they were students at Creighton University in Omaha, and they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in August.
McDonald loved music, electronics, astronomy, and he played bridge and the guitar.
McDonald spent most of his career working for Northern Natural Gas in Omaha. His wife said he had a bachelor's degree in math and a master's of business administration -- both from Creighton.
Janet Jorgensen was a longtime employee in the gift department who was popular -- and not just with co-workers.
A family friend, three grandchildren and a son-in-law all shared memories of Jorgensen on Friday morning. They said she worked at Von Maur since it opened in Omaha, and that she had an impact on everyone she knew.
"A very incredibly sweet person," Schlenker said. "She was a middle-of-the-road American, a dedicated worker. She was just a decent person who lived a good life here."
As a single woman living alone, she was always aware of her surroundings, Schlenker said.
"She called me a couple times when she was afraid of something, when she heard noises outside," he said. "I know she was always concerned about her safety as far as the way things were going in society and being a single woman."
Gary Joy, 56, was taken to Creighton University Medical Center but died before he arrived.
Joy's mother, Inez, said her son visited often at the retirement community where she and her sister live. She said her son was pursuing a degree in literature at Bellevue University. She said her son loved to write poetry and stories.
She said he donated his organs. She called that typical of the way he always helped others.
"He was helping somebody," said Inez Joy, 91. "That's what he wanted to do."
Joy said she will always remember the attention he paid to her. She said he always came when she needed help, and would often visit to have dinner with her.
Beverly Flynn worked as a gift wrapper at the store and as a real estate agent at NP Dodge Co. where she started selling homes in 2006.
Whenever she closed a deal, Flynn planted a rose bush in the yard of the new homeowners as a move-in gift, according to NP Dodge spokeswoman Susan Young.
"That was her way to put her style on the whole transaction," Young said. "She was a very warm individual."
Flynn was taken to Creighton University Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the chest. Hospital workers tried to resuscitate her for 45 minutes, but she did not regain consciousness before dying.
"All we know is that a fine human being has been taken from us prematurely, and that she and the other victims will be greatly missed," said Sandy Dodge, the president of NP Dodge, in a letter addressed to employees.
Trent's family attorney, Dennis P. Lee, released a statement.
"Dianne was the third oldest of six siblings. She leaves behind four sisters and a brother who loved her very much. She grew up in Omaha. She attended St. Pius and Marian High School and graduated from Benson High School. Dianne was a dedicated worker at Von Maur for the last eight years. She was a gentle, generous, soft-spoken woman who loved the Lord. Dianne enjoyed vacationing with her family. She loved the Christmas season and shopping. She lovingly took in animals. Anyone who met her loved her. She was a fabulous aunt to 10 nieces and 13 nephews. She will be greatly missed by her family and friends."
We know we have lost 9 unique and good people. We have learned lessons in courage, not just the store employees who worked against time to protect their customers, but of the man from Lincoln Gary Scharf who's last act was to make the first call to 911 on his cell as he died. I won't post the call, it is chilling as you hear the shots one by one and know what it means. And then the last shot, the one Robert Hawkins saved for himself.
We will learn nothing if we continue to think of this as a senseless tragedy, if we fail to examine what got us to 1:40 PM on December 5, 2007. You probably think it cruel I would include the shooter in with the victims, but he was as well. This is possibly the most important part of what we have learned and that is one act of expedience, one seemingly meanless act can have horrific consequences.
Robert "Robbie" Hawkins, 19
Please read the article it is important information and shows how necessary it is to frame what happened with the real causes. It is too easy to make these tragedies the single act of a mad dog killer when in fact just like Columbine, these shootings likely could have been prevented.
The State of Nebraska pats themselves on the back because they spent $265,000 on his care while he was a ward of the courts. When they released him in 2005, he still needed psychiatric care and could have been eligible under Medicaid thru the state. It was far cheaper and more expedient to not do what was best for Robbie and so the $265,000 spent was meaningless, it went for nothing because the State simply couldn't be bothered to continue the treatment that could have made the difference. Not just for Robbie, but the 8 other innocent individuals who also paid the price. It was the failure to continue treatment and medication for Robbie that brought us to 1:40PM, December 5, 2007.
Exactly seven days ago I posted this diary, it has been an amazing week.
By Sunday evening the walls and windows of both VonMaur inside entrances were covered, the snowflakes covering the floor in gentle drifts. A week later the snowflakes remembrances continue to find their way to VonMaur. I drive past the front entrance every day and the parking lot directly in front of the store is empty with the exception of a few cars of people stopping to show their support for the families. Inside the mall thousands of snowflakes have been added, spilling over onto adjacent store fronts. Among the snowflakes are hundreds of notes of love and support, of grieving by the community. It is a powerful experience.
Early in the week workers quietly entered VonMaur thru a side entrance and replaced the carpets. There is no word when the store will reopen, there is so much healing needed before that can happen. VonMaur and the community want a permanent memorial to the victims. I hope they will choose to incorporate snowflakes in their memorial, they represent love and hope.
On December 6th VonMaur began a victims fund, jump started by a $100,000 donation by AFLAC. United Way will administer the fund waving all costs. Right now it is over $300,000 with contributions from hundreds of individuals in 34 States. Locally a large discount grocer has made it possible for shoppers to donate with their grocery purchases. The Royals launched its auction Thursday. It will run through Dec. 20 at www.oroyals. com. All proceeds will go to the Von Maur Victims Fund. The Omaha School of Music, a nonprofit organization that helps fund music and dance instruction for low-income children will donate a portion of their Sunday recital to the victims fund. Huskerpedia is having a donation drive. Members will donate Nebraska Cornhusker memorabilia to be auctioned with proceeds to victims. Proxbid has set up a series of live online auctions for Big Sports 590, Omaha’s sports radio authority. There are many more smaller fundraisers going on and it is hoped the funds will start reaching victim families this week.
People came and even if they didn't have snowflakes, they offered handwritten notes of condolence and support.
This is a picture of the VonMaur front entrance at twilight Saturday.
By midweek it was covered from the front drive up area to the doors with snowflakes and teddy bears and flowers and candles and notes. Even the doors themselves were covered and the remembrances left dusted with snow that has fallen everyday.
The wall of snowflakes now is spreading to windows of other stores, their employees leaving words of comfort. Every Christmas tree in the Mall is covered in snowflakes.
It has been a week of funerals and good byes. We saw the one interview with Robbie's biological mother by Diane Sawyer, her pain clearly unbareable. "no one cared about him" says it all. Our local first responders have been honored for their good work, we so often overlook. We have been visited by the Rev. Phelps blaming the victims, bringing hate not snowflakes. The press has ignored him, there is no place for him here. The local media has been speaking to the people who visit the memorial, people from all over the area who wish to witness, to pray, to honor, to support. I think we have even surprised ourselves not only in our willingness but our need to stand together, to get thru this together.