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You’re Going to Be Known as an Idiot

I recently was moved by an article that Rolling Stone magazine ran about the shootings that took place in the Von Maur Department Store at Westroads Mall here in Omaha, NE. The following has been sent to each Omaha television station, two Omaha radio stations, MSNBC, The Omaha World Herald, and also sent to Rolling Stone. There was too much here to post on their site. I actually wrote this last night Aug 8th.


Everyone Will Recognize You as Some Sort of an Idiot


I received a call from a female friend of mine this afternoon. She was telling me that the latest issue of Rolling Stone , #1059, August 21, 2008, contained a front cover headline and inside story of eight pages about the teenage gunman that took the lives of eight individuals before killing himself on December 5, 2007. Location of the scene was in an upscale department store located in Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska.


I have followed this story closely, as the tragedy took place less than 3 miles from where I currently live. I recall my ex-wife calling that afternoon to inform me that she was being sent to the scene for shots fired. She is a police officer and was actually working as part of President Bush’s Security Force for his visit that morning. There were several officers from multiple departments working that day because of the President.


Some of what my friend described about the article to include the graphics and photos used, made me sit back and wonder what was wrong with the journalist responsible for writing it and the reason Rolling Stone would make a terrible decision to publish it.


“It has blood spatter behind the text,” she said in disbelief, though she was looking right at it. Blood spatter? What the hell is wrong with these people? I decided I needed to see it for myself.  I took a shower and headed up the street to a Walgreens and picked up a copy. There it was on the front cover, “Eight Dead at the Mall – A Tale of an Everyday Massacre”. Looking over the other headlines which included “Michael Moore – How the Democrats Can Blow It”; “Mellencamp’s New Blues”; and “To Hell and Back With Robert Downey Jr.” which featured Mr. Downey wearing an orange hoodie that seemed to remind me of county prisoner attire. I had to look at the magazine title once more, as I was sure it was a copy of the magazine that I recall as a teenager being about musicians, concerts and the recording industry. This disappointingly resembled a broadcast of any TV network’s national news. This issue was too depressing to make me even want to spend the $4.50 on it. I bought it anyway, cursing myself to the checkout for contributing to the sales figures of this garbage.


I found the article on page 73, and sat back to read it.


I immediately had an issue with the subtitle that the author, Mark Boal had written. He sums it up like executive summary for a Stephen King Fairytale. “A troubled teenager. An assault rifle. Eight slain in a mall. It was national news for a few days. Then it was forgotten.” Behind the headline and subtitle lay a splatter of red ink to resemble violent blood splatter for dramatic effect. I ignored my immediate thoughts about this and decided to start reading. I already had some issues and questions regarding previous media coverage of the series of events up to the shootings, and decided to give this journalist the benefit of the doubt and actually read through his work.


The story starts out describing the events as with Robert Hawkins, 19, entering the Von Maur Department store located in Westroads Mall. The events immediately detailed as to which victim was shot in various areas and levels of the store. I was disappointed to see that only one victim’s name and age were actually published.  This either told me that the author did not follow up with victim’s families, could not get cooperation from them, or was just too lazy or inconsiderate.


As I read the author’s account of that day, thinking of the victims, I again was distracted by the red ink blood splatter that was placed behind each photo caption and large typed blurb. Six of the eight pages of the story had some sort of blood splatter on it. Where was the sensitivity to the victims and the families of those that died that day, to include those of Robbie Hawkins? Did it not occur to the author or to Rolling Stone, that the graphical representation of blood splatter might upset those that were injured that day? The families of those that lost their lives, that find the courage to open to page 73 and find red ink splatter jumping out at them. I’m sure that this was taken into deep consideration before placing it. Absolutely disgusting.


Mr. Boal then follows the day’s events with an insult to the Omaha communities. Rather than take a moment to acknowledge the names of the victims of that day, he immediately begins discussing his disappointment with how quickly national media coverage dropped, even to include local coverage. And if that wasn’t enough, begins to criticize Von Maur for what he refers to as a quick reopening after being “speed-cleaned and reopened, just in time for the holiday rush”.  He points out that there was no memorial fountain or any sort of memorial gesture in place at reopening, just additional security. He also comments on how the shoppers went on about their holiday shopping as if to be unaware what had taken place just weeks before.


Evidently Mr. Boals was not in town during those previous weeks, or he would have seen exactly how the community pulled together. The decision was made by the community to move on and continue with living. The author would have also noted the snowflakes left by children, flowers, stuffed animals, and cards. 


 If we dwell on what can not be changed, we only slow ourselves down.  


Mr. Boals almost writes these passages as if his hunger for the macabre was not satisfied from afar. Criticisms to media in general for teenage killing sprees receiving very little coverage after Columbine and describing the genre of events as being a “horrifying novelty”.  Regarding the Von Maur shootings he said media coverage “amounted to just a few days’ worth of news and infotainment”. Mr. Boals should probably take note that the media may be showing some indications of coverage responsibilities of these events and to not allow them to become glamorized. It seems that some of the more common events like this have involved shooters/killers referencing how famous they will become. Not famous by word of mouth, but by mass media that is always looking for the fresh breaking story, or the event that just seems to be too extraordinary to have been fabricated. I’m actually appalled that the author could even criticize what he feels was coverage that was too short. Local media in Omaha, continued covering the story for several days with follow-up interviews with victims, witnesses, law enforcement, etc.


In fact, at this time, I have to question the timing of Rolling Stone’s decisions to run this story. The incident took place ten months before the story. The last media run of this story was in May 2008, preceded by March 2008.  Victims’ families finally are getting some peace and a quiet moment to recover from their previous interviews and media attention. Mr Boals, put yourself in their shoes for this. Just when you think it is quieting down, and you can once again take a breath, here comes another story complete with blood splatter. We are now 3 months from the 1st anniversary, as if that won’t be hard enough for those directly affected. It will be hard for the rest of the community as well.


Some additional lack of reporting responsibility regarding Mr. Boals efforts with this half-assed attempt at throwing together a story. He references the decline of several thousands of farm jobs working with corn and soybeans as being the “decent jobs”. Several thousands of high school drop outs in Nebraska are “roaming the plains with nothing to do”. This about made me gag when I read this part. That’s like being dumbfounded why a child born in Detroit ends up working at a bowling alley instead of for an automobile manufacturer just because the plants have cut jobs and downsized. Get a clue and actually have some consideration for what you write about.


In regards to Robbie’s mother, Molly Rodriguez, this woman needs some psychiatric care. Clearly any journalist with a heartbeat should have been able to recognize the issues at hand here, even amongst his own interview process.


She is shown in one part of the story as a unfaithful wife that is constantly coming home to her husband with evidence of multiple partners outside of the marriage. Then later is telling Robbie not to take the breakup with his girlfriend so hard since monogamy is not expected at such a young age. Contradictions exist in this interview and those of previous reporters. In one, she is advising that she didn’t notice the gun missing until after Robbie left that night after dinner. This RS interview shows her noticing the next day. The questioning issue with this would be the routine of checking the guns that were located in the closet. I don’t know a lot of people that own an AK47 rifle. Those that I do know that could have one, would keep it locked in a gun cabinet, especially if ammunition is present and children live at home. What part of her daily routine prompts her to have take inventory of the household firearms?


Who takes the time to write an autobiography that clearly makes you out to be less than a respectable woman? Coincidentally happens to finish the book just before the shootings took place and feels the need to celebrate with dinner and drugs with Robbie. I believe that Molly may have started writing the autobiography (if there is one) sometime after grieving Robbie’s loss. During this time she would have time to review her own life to figure out what happened. She probably found it amusing enough to write about it. Knowing that Robbie’s actions would put her in a public eye, if even for a short time, she could use this as a time to springboard a potential book or movie deal. Coincidentally, along comes Mr. Boals knocking for the interview, Ms Rodriguez saw this as a perfect time to be able to try to land a book deal or a movie deal about the events of her life. Once you see Mark Boals’s resume, you will understand why as well. She clearly shared this with him, as he pointed it out in the story as well. Relevance to the story is still unknown. Makes me wonder what she did with him while he was here for the interview.


Molly who allowed her child…her “baby boy” to have drugs in the house, encourage the sales of drugs, and to even participate in getting stoned with him. How could she possibly remember any important details of the night before if she was sharing dope with her son? My instinct tells me Molly knows more about what happened those weeks before than she is letting on.


There is no mention of interviewing Robbie’s father. If attempts were made, there was no indication of failure. How can you take the side of the story based on an uninvolved mother that uses drugs with her children, allows sexual activity in the house, consistently contradicts her credibility by not remembering what she has told previous reporters?


The end of the story is extremely abrupt, as if he was just tired of writing and handed it over. This was also disappointing, as the writer addresses the lack of community remembrance in the opening subtitle, but fails to investigate and report the findings on why this could have happened.


Who is Mark Boal?  Internet research does not produce any actual biographical information with the exception of finding that he wrote the screenplay for “In the Valley of Elah”.  Another story called “Death by Deception” about a team of elite soldiers involved with the Iraqi conflict conspiring to murder and cover-up a fellow team members death. Some similarities in Mr. Boals’s writing seems to revolve around somebody did something wrong and here’s my way of trying to prove that outside circumstances are responsible. This ends up causing the writer to “report” in an editorial style, but mix enough factual reporting that was found on other journalist’s online accounts, that it essentially is a snow job over the desk of an editor. I reread the story and found that Mr. Boals worked some pretty serious opinions in between his accounts.


Other similarities, is the use of the word “massacre” seems to find its way into the journalist’s headlines. And for some reason, there always seems to a military twist that involves an AK47.


Overall I was disappointed in the lack of responsible reporting. Mr. Boals shows the ability to write, but lacks the ability to report objectively and factually. I can only imagine how others in the community are going to react to this insult to those of us in Omaha and its communities.


A note to my fellow Nebraskans that are offended, I have sent this to local media, and will also be sending it to Rolling Stone. Let’s see if RS publishes it.



  1. RR
    08/10/2008 at 11:38

    I thought this was a great article even though I hate Rolling Stone and usually hate what I read. I actually read this article and thought it was interesting and made me aware of this incident. I had never heard about it before which even validated the article even more to me. It’s so true how they describe that teenage shooters come and go. They gave a point of view and I thought it was valid.

    This wasn’t about the mall shooting, it was about the boy’s life. Telling people what they didn’t know about him. I totally understand that his mother is a psycho that needs to go to a mental institution, but this article is about a teenage boy who had no control over his life, it gave an inside view to his life for a few pages. I don’t think it was suppose to glamorize the shooting, that is why they didn’t talk about the shooting as much as they talked about his life.

  2. Don
    08/14/2008 at 08:54

    As a psychologist I found Boal’s article to be quite compelling. It is rare that you get much in the way of a psychological autopsy, especially with any depth at all into the family dynamics, of these killers that erupt. Usually coverage begins and ends with the neighbor next door interview–“seemed like a nice guy to me” kind of stuff. This account rings pretty true to me, and it is really a sad tale. And I wish I could say that these damaged personalities are a rarity….

  3. Mdc
    08/14/2008 at 12:13

    I liked the article as well. There is something to be said about distance from the subject. You are obviously mush more caught up in this than the writer is. Boals seems to trust his readers ability to think and judge for themselves. You might want to work on that, as oddly enough, my thoughts on the article weren’t too different than yours.

  4. vstar
    08/18/2008 at 15:41

    Great article? Compelling? I am puzzled. He provided a platform for a woman who admitted to doing drugs with her son, keeping men around to provide for her in exchange for her companionship, and she disappeared from his life for hearly 10 years? If someone found a person willing to publish any random nasty, negative thing they could think of about you, would you then find that it ‘rings true’ or was ‘valid’? Read the factual documents; court reports, police reports, evaluations. Pay attention to all the people, including scores of mental professionals as well as his family, who were trying everything possible to help him. Then, tell me it makes sense to listen to the words of someone who was absent for most of his life.

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