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I-Reporter recalls horror of Nebraska mall shootings

  • Story Highlights
  • At least nine killed in shootings at Omaha, Nebraska, mall
  • I-Reporter Kristy Wright heard shots, hid in a nearby jewelry store
  • "Now I know what it felt like at Virginia Tech," Wright says
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By Kate Taylor
CNN
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(CNN) -- Though tears, Kristy Wright said she's not doing well Thursday morning, the day after a shooter took the lives of nine people, including himself, at an Omaha, Nebraska, mall.

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Kristy Wright took this photo as police escorted her and others out of Westroads Mall after Wednesday's shootings.

"We were steps away from walking in there," Omaha-area resident Wright says of the Von Maur department store at the Westroads Mall where Robert A. Hawkins, 19, of Bellevue, Nebraska, opened fire.

"I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people who were in there."

Wright and a friend went out shopping together, and were headed to Von Maur, but the two stopped short because Wright's friend had to use the restroom. "Two minutes passed, or we would have been in there," Wright says.

Hawkins shot some of his victims in the children's department. "I always go straight to that department," Wright said, "because I have a 9-year-old."

Instead, she and her friend heard shots as they were standing inside the mall, just outside the doors to Von Maur. Wright described a sound unlike any other she had heard before despite growing up near hunting grounds in Minnesota. Video Watch an I-Reporter's footage of chaos at the mall »

"The gunshots were so consistent," Wright said, her voice tinged with horror.

"I heard what seemed like the first four or five, then there was a bigger round. What we didn't realize, what we found out later that night, was that we had heard someone being shot."

A hide-out in nearby store

Wright said she realized what was happening and yelled, "There's a shooter." She tried to turn and run, but her legs wouldn't move fast enough, she said. She said her friend was frozen in fear. Wright guided them both to a nearby jewelry store, she recalled.

Wright told the jewelry store employees what she had heard and asked if they would take the two of them in, she said. A manager showed Wright, her friend and four employees to a room in the back of the store.

Wright said she sat in the small room wondering if a shooter would walk in the door any minute.

"Now I know what it felt like at Virginia Tech," she said. "Just waiting for your turn. Waiting for the door to fly open and for him to come in there, and it's your turn."

The ride home alone

The shooter didn't barge in, but the police arrived. They gathered everyone in the mall together to walk them outside. Wright said she didn't want to leave her small, enclosed hide-out. Video See I-Reporters' photos of police roaming the mall »

In the meantime, Wright's 16-year-old daughter was at home, watching reports of the shootings on TV. She knew that her mother had gone out shopping. Terrified, she called her mother, who reassured her that she was safe. Wright's family also called from Minnesota. She spoke to her husband at work before her cell phone battery died.

"Everybody was borrowing phones, people were giving phones to each other. Teenagers that you wouldn't expect to be so compassionate at that age -- everyone was offering rides to people who were parked at a distance from JC Penney," where police escorted people out of the mall.

Once outside, Wright had to make the 15-minute drive home to her family alone. "As soon as I got past the reporters and on to the road, I started shaking. It was a long 15 minutes. I just called my mother and talked to her the whole way home," she recalled. "I had to talk to someone."

Questions left unanswered

Wright said that she didn't sleep much Wednesday night and neither did the friend who had accompanied her. "I called her this morning," Wright said. "She said she kept waking up, trying to catch her breath throughout the night."

Wright said her friend "is not the kind of person who shows emotion, but you can hear it in her voice, and you can see it on her face."

Wright said she plans to go to the University of Nebraska at Omaha on Thursday for counseling. Wright has to drive past the mall to get to the school, a task she said she is dreading.

Mulling over the events of the day, Wright said there are many questions left unanswered.

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"There was a woman in front of me in the checkout line at another store in the mall. She turned to her companion and said, 'Let's go to Von Maur now.' "

This exchange was just before Wright and her friend stopped off at the restrooms. "I wonder what happened to her," Wright said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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