Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence

"I'll be Famous"

Robert Hawkins
Robert Hawkins

By the age of six, according to the Omaha World-Herald, Robert Hawkins, the killer of eight Christmas shoppers at an Omaha mall in 2007, had been on medication for depression. At the time, he lived with his father and stepmother, his father's second wife. When he was two years old, his father had separated from his biological mother, an alleged substance abuser, and had taken him and his older sister away. He had gained two stepsiblings when his father remarried, and he had soon developed serious behavioral problems. He often acted out, biting, kicking, and hitting, so he was sent to therapy.

A fierce custody battled ensued, with the mother blaming the father for these problems, but the father countering with attacks on her allegedly poor parenting skills. A judge left the children with the father.

Robert continued to seek attention through quirky behaviors and general trouble-making. Finally, when he was fourteen, he threatened to kill his stepmother and so was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He remained in treatment for nine months, but subsequently had two more admissions for a mood disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. He also abused alcohol and drugs, so he ended up in foster care and group homes, as well as treatment programs. He seemed to enjoy the attention, especially from kids in the programs who looked up to him. However, he yearned to be home. He also failed to respond positively to the treatment, instead continuing to get into trouble in school and, according to some, selling drugs.

By his junior year in high school, Hawkins decided to drop out. He moved in with his father again, but, by his account, he was soon kicked out and so moved in with a friend's family. Seeming like a "lost pound puppy," he developed a belief that the world was against him. It made him feel as though he were a burden to those he loved, and this bothered him a great deal.

In November 2007, the nineteen-year-old faced a hearing for being in possession of alcohol. Then a girlfriend broke up with him, and, over an alleged theft, he lost his job at a local McDonald's. Angry and disappointed how life was turning out, he obtained, either by permission or theft, an SKS semi-automatic Russian military rifle owned by a relative. On December 6, he penned a suicide note which indicated that "now he would be famous," and went to the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. There, dressed in a camouflage vest, he proceeded to the Von Maur department store and started shooting. Eight people died and five others were wounded. Finally, Hawkins turned the weapon on himself. It seemed he'd decided that life wasn't worth living, but in keeping with his recurring bids for attention had decided to pay the world back for his pain and make sure he was noticed. That's generally the goal of mass murders committed by adolescents.

Hawkins gave several signals that he could turn violent, given the right set of triggers, but, like some other notorious killers, successfully hid his true intent.

 

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