As a symbol of support, in the center of the food court at the Westroads Mall, the Christmas tree is covered with handmade snowflakes, so many they are piled on the floor around the tree about eight inches high, I have two in there.
I am not going to lie, it was creepy. More creepy than it was healing, although I am glad I went ... I am sure I am not the only person in Omaha who feels the same way. Omaha is friendly city, and even with the half million or so people who live here, there isn't three degrees of separation between any two people. You know someone who knows someone. So it was very easy to take what happened personally. Nothing like Chicago, where I knew a guy who was shot in the parking lot of the local 7-11, it was random, you just dealt with it, here it is different, maybe some of it has to do with being older, perhaps not.
Venche and I went Friday afternoon, the day after Von Maur reopened. We met in the food court, and then walked over from the inside of the mall. Right before you walk in the door, there were eight simple wreaths, unadorned, four to a side, with the simple message "we remember". The first person I saw as I walked in the door was a uniformed cop, packing. It wasn't particularly difficult to walk in the door, nor was it tough to walk around. I didn't go to the third floor, mostly because the mens section was on the second floor. What made it difficult, was, again, personal.
As it turns out, I did know someone working at Von Maur at the time of the mall massacre. I'll leave her name out, I'm sure this is not the kind of notoriety she wants. She was on the second floor when the shootings took place. This is a person I hold in very high esteem because of the way she walks her faith. I read from reports that the shooter, Hawkins, aimed the gun down from the third floor atrium to the second. Considering where she works, it wouldn't be hard to imagine her being shot. The reports also talked about the only two sounds being gunfire and the piano playing. I guess the musician in me found the juxtaposition of the two eerie at best, and the piano was playing during our visit. I don't quite have the right vocabulary to describe the disconsertment [may not be a real word] the whole experience left me with...
My friend who works at Von Maur told me that the first day they were open they did more than double the amount of sales for any single day for any Von Maur store ever. I didn't end up buying anything, but like many Omahans, I had to go. There is a joke about Omaha that has a punch line goes something "thanks for visiting, now leave." As if we don't want outsiders to come in and ruin the great city we got going here, no real reason to worry about that, the cold will keep people away. They say crisis doesn't make character, it reveals it, and Omaha has had it's character revealed, and I'm proud to say I live here.
P.S. As a open note to the Von Maur Company and it's leaders. I just want to say that I thought your actions and attitudes following this tragedy were commendable. Someday, when I can afford it, you got yourself a customer.