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Teen kills eight in US mall rampage

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A teenager who wanted to die "famous" shot dead eight Christmas shoppers with an assault rifle at an Omaha shopping mall before killing himself.

Robert Hawkins, 19, left a suicide note in which he explained the latest shooting rampage to stun the United States, police said, adding that two of the five people wounded in Wednesday's shooting were in critical condition.

Employees and shoppers fled the mall or locked themselves inside stores after hearing dozens of shots from the upscale Von Maur department store at the Westroads Mall.

Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren said the shooting appeared to be "very random and without provocation."

He identified the shooter as Robert Hawkins, 19, and said he was armed with an SKS assault rifle.

"We believe there was one shooter and one shooter only," he said.

"We do have a (suicide) note. I can't describe the contents of this note, but it does appear this incident was premeditated."

Hawkins' landlady, Debora Maruca Kovac, told CNN television that Hawkins' note said "that he was sorry for everything, that he didn't want to be a burden to anybody, he loved his family, he loved all of his friends. He was a piece of shit all of his life and now he'll be famous."

Kovac said that Hawkins had lived in her house for a year and a half, and had recently broken up with his girlfriend.

"He was withdrawn," she said. "He was like a lost pound puppy that nobody wanted. … He had a lot of emotional problems."

The Omaha World Herald newspaper reported that Hawkins had also been fired from his job at a McDonald's, and was arrested Friday for being a minor in possession of alcohol — the legal drinking age in the United States is 21.

The newspaper said he had been sent to jail for seven days in 2005 on charges of disorderly conduct.

The Sarpy County Sheriff's Department, located just south of Omaha in Papillion, told KETV television that Hawkins' mother walked into its office shortly after the shooting with a note that "could be interpreted as suicidal."

The sheriff's office and Omaha police could not be immediately reached for comment.

Employees and shoppers at the Mall panicked after hearing dozens of assault rifle shots boom around the mall.

"People were freaking," an employee at Whitehall jewelers, who refused to give her name, told AFP by telephone.

Shoppers and workers described a terrifying scene.

"We heard about 35, 40 shots, and on our way we did see someone down by the escalator, bleeding," witness Jennifer Cramer told KETV.

"I was standing around getting ready to go back to work and all of a sudden I heard this bang, bang, bang — it sounded like someone shooting fireworks," another witness told KETV. "I ran to get away from whatever was happening."

The Nebraska incident was the latest in a series of shootings in the United States, where private gun ownership is legal and widespread.

Late last month two people were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at a Texas mall.

The woman was working at a store when she got a phone call from her angry boyfriend who threatened to harm her, local television station KHOU said.

The woman called mall security for help, but the boyfriend arrived before they did and took her hostage, pulling down the store's front gate and barricading them inside.

There have also been a series of school shootings this year, the worst being the Virginia Tech massacre in April in which 32 people were killed when a student went on a campus rampage.

Wednesday's shooting took place as President George W. Bush headed back to Washington after delivering a Republican fund-raising speech in Omaha.

Bush expressed sadness after learning about the shooting.

"His thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this evening," the White House said in a statement.

"Having just visited with so many members of the community in Omaha today, the president is confident that they will pull together to comfort one another as they deal with this terrible tragedy," it said.

Police response to the tragedy was "quicker and more organized" due to Bush's visit, the head of the Omaha Police Department's SWAT team told the World-Herald.

Members of the SWAT team and other police personnel had been assembled Wednesday morning to provide security for the president's visit. Though some of the extra officers had gone home when the first call for help at the mall came in, many were nearby and raced there, said Sergeant Tim Carmody, head of the SWAT and bomb teams.

"Based on what we know," he said, "I don't think (security for Bush's visit) could have prevented what happened, but it allowed us to respond faster, and we were able to efficiently clear out the mall."