Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Moses Lake, WA
First hand account of Omaha mall shooting
The Shack has the privilege of being able to talk with one of the witnesses from the third floor of the Von Maur store at Westroads Mall in Omaha.
On the condition of anonymity, he has agreed to tell his account of what happened. He will only be identified by the moniker NWJT.
I was given the first draft of this account Thursday morning, 12/6/07. The only changes that have been made were mostly grammatical and organizational. NWJT's account has not changed. He has opted to leave any inaccuracies (such as the gun identification) as it was originally written in order to properly show how the mind works in this condition.
I have agreed to post his story account as is, with only minor edits for spelling and grammar. The bulk of this was written about 14 hours after the event occurred. There is an update at the end.
His story presents an interesting issue for CCW holders in such a situation: Shoot or no shoot. Hide or flee. Help or don’t help.
Please look at the post after this account as I have put up a practice drill (The Von Maur Drill) that is designed based on this man’s scenario.
With that, I now turn the blog over to NWJT.
I took a later lunch that day because I had a noon phone meeting with a company out of New York, apparently we’re not on the same lunch schedule. I also planned to take a one-hour lunch that day, instead of a 30-minute lunch, so I could go to Van Maur and pick up some gifts for my wife. We were both there on the evening of Dec 03 with my 1-year-old daughter, and my wife tried on some coats and showed me some bath robes she liked, so I knew exactly what I was going for that day.
I asked a co-worker (named K for this story) for directions to Van Maur from my place of business. as she knew a faster route that would get me there quicker.
I left work around 1:15 to 1:20 and arrived at the front doors of Van Maur at 1:35 (shooting -7), I remember specifically looking at my watch as walked in. I came in the south entrance to Van Maur, right by the elevators.
I proceeded to 2nd floor using the escalator around 1:36 (shooting -6 minutes). I soon picked up a coat that my wife liked. I spent a couple minutes there because I was still not completely sure about picking the white coat or black coat. I checked my watch and realized time was running out, so I picked the white one. This was about 1:39 (shooting -3).
Then I again took the escalator to the third floor.I went over to the bath robes near the bra section, which is by customer service. I was standing close to the north wall, by the east corner. I walked around the robes a bit to see if there were any last minute changes about what I wanted to get, then I proceeded to the rack of robes that my wife had expressed interest in.
At this point I don't have a time line, but the events unfolded follows:
I heard gunshots, about 8. I knew exactly what they were, but my brain didn't want me to believe it.
I looked towards the escalators because it sounded like they came from there. I could not place the direction the shots came from because I was surrounded by 4 walls and standing nearly in a corner.
I stood there for maybe 8 seconds (time enough to change a magazine), then I heard several more shots. Somehow, then I focused in on the shooter. He was towards the south wall, in the east corner, maybe 30 degrees to my left. He was about 30 yards away. He was shooting towards the west and I had a nice side view of him.
He was wearing what looked like a solid green sleeveless vest, and was shooting a semi-automatic rifle. I could see sleeves of a shirt that did not match the vest. The vest did not look military or camouflage, but to me looked green.
To me, at the time, I thought the rifle might be an AR15. One thing I noticed, it appeared that the empty shells were ejecting out of the left side of the gun instead of the right, which doesn't make sense and could of been an illusion. All I could see were mostly the black parts of the gun. The stock of the gun was the black frame style, instead of a wood stock.
The shooter had brown or black hair, and I remember it being cut quite Short, but not buzzed. He had the gun up to his cheek and was shooting in rapid succession doing quick maneuvers with the gun. At first, It went through my mind that this guy was some sort of military and this was a terrorist attack. I could see the shells ejecting from the gun.
The way he was walking and shooting, calmly, no yelling, made me think that there was more than one shooter and they were performing a "clean sweep". He was aiming down the barrel of the gun, and shooting rapidly.
At this point, I stared for nearly 5 seconds, until I turned and ducked down and started running. I want to make note of this point in time, as I will come back to it.
I was running towards the north wall and somehow making my way farther towards the east wall at the same time, putting myself in the corner even more. There were maybe five people who started walking fast looking in the direction of the shooter. I am not sure if they could see him or just heard the commotion. When they saw that I was running like heck, others started running, too.
People were running into the dressing rooms. I got near the door and decided that is not where I wanted to be. I ran west a few yards uncertain of what to do or where to go. I was trapped. But then I focused in on an emergency exit and ran out of it. The alarm sounded. It was loud, but I think it was only an alarm attached to the door, not sure if it set the whole store alarms off, but they were loud shreiking alarms, not continuous, but a pulse type alarm.
I ended up in some gray hallway with a set of stairs and very little room to move side to side. I ran down one set of stairs to 2nd floor.
There was a door there and I almost went through it. But I heard more gunshots that sounded like they were on the other side of the door. I believe I turned and I jumped over the stair railing to the next landing, skipping the stairs completely. I do not remember the impact, and I do not remember if I jumped down a whole floor, or ran down the first half of the stairs and jumped down the rest. I am not certain of this point due to the fear I felt at this point after hearing more gunshots I thought was on 2nd floor, confirming in my mind there were multiple shooters.
I ran down a small hallway and found a door to the outside, but it would not open. It was a double door with a push bar. At this point, I had to make a decision. Do I wait here or get out?
I didn’t know what or who was on the other side of the door, and but I decided to go for it because I was trapped at the end of a hallway with no where to go. I pushed the door hard and it still would not give, so I kicked the push bar and the door flung open.
I was now outside, on Van Maur’s loading dock on the east side, I looked to my right and there was a long trash can close to the wall. I jumped over a rail, off the dock between the garbage can and the wall. I ran along this until I came to the end of both the garbage can and wall. I then realized that I was still carrying the coat I was going to by my wife. For some reason, I decided to drop it, and probably ruined it.
Then I ran out into the parking lot, which is between the mall and the parking garage. I didn’t know what to do next. I tried to call 911 on my phone with no luck. I yelled to some guy to call 911. Then I asked him if he had a gun I could use. I was freaking out, and in reality probably would not have gone back in. However, I was worried about someone picking off people in the lot, or coming out charging with guns firing. I had no idea how many shooters were in there.
I borrowed a lady’s cell phone, and she was worried I was going to run off with it. But 911 was busy, so I knew people were probably called. It took FOREVER for the cops to get there, I estimated the time as10 minutes but the news says 6.
During this time I did not know what to do. I almost just went for my car and left, but I realized that couldn’t be right. It was like someone pulled a fire alarm at the store, so I thought about just leaving and let everyone else figure it out. I decided that was the wrong thing to do..
I walked around to the north side and saw all the cops loading up. I yelled to them, “I saw what is going on. The guy has an M-16 type gun. If you need information, I can give it or else I am outta here.” A police lieutenant pulled me aside and I ended up in a cop car.
Minutes later another witness joined me. She said she was right beside me on the 3rd floor before the shooting. We were both very shaken up. My lungs were burning because I nearly did a full sprint down 3 floors. The cold air hit my lungs hard.
I was later taken to J.C. Penney and interviewed. At first, the interviewer was taking notes, but when he realized how involved I was I had start over, this time with a tape recorder running
I was then escorted to my car and I stopped back by work. I arrived at work around 4pm, which means my interview ended around 3:30 – 3:45.
When I heard the first round of gunshots, I knew what they were but didn’t want to believe it. I tried to think that they were balloons or fireworks. However, I definitely took a defensive stance ready to run.
When I saw the shooter, I stood there for nearly 5 seconds just watching.
First, he was firing 90 degrees away from me. The thing is, this image was nothing new to me. I see people shooting all the time at the range, on TV, in video games. But what my brain was having a hard time processing was that was Van Maur.
Now back to the point I referenced earlier.
Honestly, and as God as my witness, when I saw him shooting and as watched for a few seconds trying to figure out what he was going to do and what I should do, the thought that when through my mind was, “If I had a gun, I have a perfect shot.”
Yes, a perfect shot. I had a full side profile, I was close, and no one was visible behind him execept a wall. I had a clear shot during the second round of fire. I told this to every cop I came in contact with. The interviewer agreed.
When I realized that I had no gun, fear instantly struck me, along with anger, and severe panic.
I ran hard.
I did not think to try to help people, I just got out.
While I was running, I kept hearing shots. In my mind, I could see myself getting shot in the back, bullets ripping through me and blood spraying in front of me.
Interestingly, I was still able to make decisions. I knew the dressing room was a bad place. When I realized I was trapped in a corner, more fear set in and I almost went for the dressing room, but then I saw the emergency exit.
I instantly started second-guessing that decision as well. For all I knew, there were more shooters waiting for people to try to escape. But realizing that I was wide open to attack, I ran out the emergency door.
As I ran down the stairs, all kinds of thoughts started occurring. What if a shooter was coming up the stairs? What if one followed me down? Every decision I made was second-guessed, should I just stop or keep going?
I kept going, and due to luck, I was fine. There was only one shooter, and he did not set any boobytraps.
That’s all. My decisions were fairly limited and all I could do is go where the doors and hallways took me.
After my interview, as I was being escorted by the cops to my car, I saw the nice, white coat still there by the garbage can. I pointed it out to my interviewer who was escorting me, hoping maybe he’d let me go pick it up to possibly save it. But, it was a lost cause. I would have gone back later and paid for it.
This part of the story may be removed later, but I will have it here for now.
I do not have a Concealed Handgun Permit. I have completed the training class, but I keep putting off applying for the permit because I think it is useless. In the places I would need a gun most, I am not allowed to have it. I will not be a person living in fear and not go to Van Maur because they don’t allow guns.
My point that Open Carry needs to be easier in Omaha, and places like Westroads need to take down their “no guns” signs.
If I had my gun deeply concealed, I wouldn’t have been able to draw it very fast. However, If I had open carried, I could of drawn instantly.
Either way though, I could have drawn and taken a clean shot. However, in both cases, regardless of the laws, I am not allowed to carry a gun at all in Westroads Mall. If the laws did not oppress my rights, I would carry a gun most places (except work). I would certainly have had it in the mall as mall shootings have been on my mind since the incident at a mall involving a shotgun back in February.
My wife is somewhat cautious about guns as is my sister-in-law. After this event, both are now pro-guns. In addition, I will never again be caught without a gun.
I later learned from the news that people were shot at customer service (to my right) and the children’s section (in front of me, off to the left). This means it was only luck this guy did not target me, as I was closer to him than some of the people he shot. I have a second chance at life.
What really irks my gut is that I was just there at Van Maur on Monday night with my wife and daughter. What if they were with me this time? Escape like I did would not of been possible.
I am very angry at the city of Omaha and the mall for their stupid laws that nearly cost me my life. The laws protected no one, and in my opinion, caused people to die.
Will I go to the media? Maybe. I can’t make a decision now because I am still shaken up. I got very little sleep last night. I need to let my head clear. Nothing I do right now is going to change the outcome and near brush with death.
Right now I have been practicing with my .40 S&W Beretta, replaying the situation in my mind.
I could have done it, no problem, no hesitation, no regrets. This was a test of my soul, and the results are in and I know them for certain.
I am going to go buy some “gear,” then go to the shooting range for some target practice.
My knnee hurts and my legs and lungs still burn. I cannot recall how high of jump I took, but I am going back to Van Maur to find out.
UPDATE 12/6/07 - I went to a local shooting range and purchased several silhouette targets. I then put the targets down range, to the approximate place I think the shooter would have been.
It seems it may be between 40 and 50 meters based on my memory. I used my Beretta 90-Two (.40 S&W) and shot each target several times with 6 round magazines. I mostly aimed for the head because that is probably what I would have done in the mall, as I didn't know if he was wearing a vest or not.
My accuracy to the head was about 4 out of 6, depending on how fast I fired. For the shots I missed the head, they still hit the neck or the chest. A few test cases, I missed the head by an inch. I would of been shooting up at a slight angle so the missed shots would of went higher than most people stand.
I then took body shots and my accuracy was near 100% on the target, though not necessarily in the kill zone. I conclude I could have taken the shots with decent accuracy and been effective. I cannot predict the outcome, except that I would of rather been shooting at the killer, instead of crossing my fingers, turning my back, and running away. Even if I only wounded him, I could of run in closer for more accuracy. Call me crazy, it may be true, but running away like I did was more crazy and more risky with my life. I just got lucky.
I do want to say that when I talk about that I could of stopped the killer, I am not trying to make a political statement. I am simply saying if
I were allowed to carry a gun, I would have and I would have used it.
That is a hard fact. I am not trying to be a hero and say that I would
have tried to save lives. I am saying that I was trying to save my life,
and if my family was there, their lives as well. There is nothing
"hero" about what I am saying, it's about survival.
I feel that I am alive today because of luck. I chose to run, but it was not a choice. I was forced to run. Many will say that is the right choice. I say it is the choice that requires luck. ALOT of luck with the position I was in.
Use of deadly force at times may also require luck. But, it also depends upon skill, awareness, and practice. These are things I can control, and these are things I trust far more than luck
The statements I am making today are my own, and represent my personal views and my views alone. It may or may not be the views of my family, friends, employer, other professional affiliates, or anyone or thing affiliated with me in any way of form other than myself.