ANebraska Tragedy


Who is responsible when a killing spree occurs?

Deal-making in early December offered detailed information about available shopping center space in and around New York, but it didn’t portend the tragedy that was about to unfold 1,100 miles away. While in Manhattan on Wednesday, Dec. 5, for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual deal-making conference, I visited with some of the folks from General Growth Properties (GGP). None of us had any idea that, at the same time we were exchanging greetings, a teenaged gunman was likely checking his ammo and rehearsing plans to maim and kill shoppers at the Von Maur in GGP’s popular Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb.

I flew out of La Guardia early Wednesday afternoon, headed to Omaha where my husband would drive us the 60 miles home to Lincoln. I connected in Minneapolis, focused more on incoming weather systems than on catching any news updates. So the news my husband met me with when I landed in Omaha at 6:07 p.m. was a staggering shock. “There’s been a shooting at Westroads. We don’t know how many are dead; the news is still developing.” I live in Nebraska, for God’s sake. Things like this don’t happen here.

Not true, of course, and now 1.7 million Nebraskans are painfully aware of it. Nine of our own, including the 19-year-old shooter, are dead. As I write this, the last of the funerals was held just yesterday. Both the Omaha and Lincoln papers have teemed with daily stories about the lives of the people who died, and about how much each will be missed.

Missing from the coverage is finger-pointing. Over the past year or so, I have read scathing editorials about inadequate mall security. I dreaded what I believed to be the inevitable blame leveled at General Growth and Von Maur for not “preventing the tragedy” with ample security. Never mind that on the morning of the shooting, the Omaha police chief said publicly it would have been impossible for security personnel to act any faster than they did. I still expected blame. It never happened. Sure, I heard stirrings nationally, but not within these state lines.

I attended a holiday party in Lincoln on Dec. 12, and I brought up the subject for discussion. The response was vehement. “How in the world could the mall have prevented that?” And, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be frisked before shopping.” I agree. At some point, we all need to quit pointing fingers at the easiest targets—the companies that own venues where tragedies occurred. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Lincoln victim Gary Scharf’s son Steve. On Dec. 13, eight days after his father was shot and killed, the 19-year-old told the Lincoln Journal-Star, “Added security isn’t the answer. That’s treating the symptom, not the cause.” Steve is sending his dad’s memorial money to TeamMates, the mentoring organization started by former Husker football coach and current interim athletic director, Tom Osborne. “We can’t save everyone,” said young Scharf, “but we can try.”

Nebraskans aren’t pointing fingers at a mall owner or its department store tenant. We are looking deeper, within ourselves, for what compelled one of our state’s youth to go on a killing spree.

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