Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Westroads Shooting: Coverage Notes

KETV-7 and KMTV-3 benefited from having fixed "skycams" near the Westroads Mall, allowing them to give viewers an early bird's eye view of the scene.

KETV was first to feed video back from the scene (pictured at right).

At least two stations (KMTV and KETV) reported "police scanner" and "police radio" reports indicated that at least five people were shot. At about 2:15 p.m., KMTV reported that "two people were dead" and "two suspects were being sought."

The Journal Broadcast Group switched some of its stations to a simulcast of KMTV's audio around 2:20 p.m.

A KKAR (1290 AM) staffer identified as "Heather" was inside the mall at the time of the shooting. She filed a report for the station from the back of an ambulance, where she had been evacuated to after police arrived.

CNN began broadcasting live coverage, courtesy of KETV. Omaha native Dan Simon, (a former KPTM producer and current CNN correspondent based in San Francisco), said it was the "last place you would expect violence like this."

KPTM-42 was last to begin live coverage, which was eventually picked up by CNN (around 2:40 p.m.) and FOX News Channel.

MSNBC took WOWT's live coverage.

KETV broadcast still photos taken by "Todd Trimpe" of a man in a green vest being questioned by police. He was reportedly hiding under a nearby bus bench outside the mall. Trimpe also e-mailed the photos to other news outlets and KFAB morning talk show host Scott Voorhees.

WOWT reporter Mike McKnight was the first to report that the shooter had died of a "self-inflicted gunshot."

The Omaha World-Herald's web portal,, went down at 2:15 p.m. due to heavy visitor traffic. It resurfaced shortly after 5 p.m. with a story, a video and a link to a new "World-Herald blog" that contained a single posting.

WOWT-6 reporter Jason Joseph reported from Creighton University Medical Center that he had spoken to someone who was at the hospital, accompanying someone "who had been injured in a gunfight with police."

KMTV reporter Michelle Bandur reported at 3 p.m. that there may be "up to five more victims" inside the mall after several victims had been taken from the scene.

KFAB afternoon talk show host Tom Becka and producer Matt Tompkins went to the scene to join News Director Tom Stanton. KFAB occasionally took portions of KETV audio. Becka also filed live reports to MSNBC.

KKAR reporters Brian Barks and Terry Leahy were also on the scene.

Radio news coverage prior to the police press conference noticeably lagged behind that of their TV news counterparts.

Moments after anchor Carlo Cecchetto referenced "privacy concerns regarding HIPAA laws that authorities have to respect" KMTV broadcast a mug shot of "shooting victim" Jeffery Schaffart, a 34-year-old Omaha attorney, who was hospitalized in fair condition. (The station later explained it spoke with Schaffart before he was taken away by rescue squad.)

Nearly every news outlet broadcast a press conference outside the mall at 4:05 p.m. At that time, the death toll rose from two confirmed dead to nine - a figure which included the shooter. Police say "every available officer" was sent to the mall after the call to 911 of an "active shooter." The response time was six minutes.

WOWT's website headlined the incident as "The Mall Massacre."

At 4:23 p.m., KETV broadcast raw videotape of an interview with a woman who described herself as a "wrapper" at Von Maur. The woman revealed several victims' names, including that of her boss. The tape was then fast-forwarded to a point later in the interview.

KPTM's Taylor Wilson reported that the Von Maur pianist continued playing after the first couple of shots "rang out." Witnesses said they thought the sound of gunfire was actually construction.

WOWT was first to report (at 4:30 p.m.) that a 19-year-old Sarpy County man left a suicide note in a home in Bellevue that read, "I'm going out in style." According to the station, the man’s vehicle was found in the mall parking lot.

On Friday night, a grenade was found Friday night in the the northwest corner of the parking lot at Westroads Mall. The Omaha Police Bomb Squad Unit was called and safely removed the intact grenade.

WOWT began simulcasting its coverage on News On One (Cox Channel 1) at 4:30 p.m.

At 4:35 p.m., KETV reported on the suicide note without revealing specifics, saying only that the Sarpy County Sheriff's department was given the note by a woman around the time of the shooting and the information was passed along to Omaha police.

By 4:40 p.m., a Google news search indicated that more than 650 stories had been posted about the shooting.

The Lincoln Journal Star asked people who were in the mall at the time of the shooting to e-mail the newspaper.

One of the most compelling interviews was with a woman identified as "Teresa" who told WOWT reporter Brian Mastre that she worked at JcPenney. "I saw a guy run by with a huge gun. At first it didn't register. Then, there was a woman who had an awful look on her face with two little kids. She was practically dragging the one and pushing the stroller and saying 'he has a gun and he's shooting people.'" Teresa told Mastre that she got the woman and the two children to a safe area and used her store radio to warn others about the gunman.

Only KMTV (who subbed midday anchor Mary Williams for the vacationing Carol Wang) was without its normal main anchor team during wall-to-wall breaking news coverage that began shortly after 2 p.m. Wang later joined Cecchetto and Williams on the set. Cecchetto told viewers that five minutes before the gunman opened fire, he happened to be at the customer service desk on the third floor of Von Maur, paying a bill.

"Kind of eerie," Cecchetto said. "Just moments later he was roughly at the same spot, shooting down at people on the second floor. Watching the video, I saw a lady wearing a turquoise sweater and blouse who was working at the counter who I paid my bill to and who was lovely and wonderful and cheerful and had that holiday spirit. A couple hours later, I see her outside in the cold, comforting herself, shaking and crying. It's a reminder of how violence can shake everything you know and throw it upside down."

KMTV was also the only TV station to broadcast live (at 4:57 p.m.) a press conference at the Creighton University Medical Center. KPTM joined the news conference in progress. WOWT reporter Justin Joseph (identified as "Justin Jospeph" on the chyron) also reported on the press conference by phone.

At 5:01 p.m., Maniko Barthelemy reported by phone from outside the Bellevue home of the 19-year-old who was thought to have left the suicide note. WOWT anchor John Knicley also reported that the man was facing charges of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

Several stations revealed that Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren were both out of town during Wednesday's shooting.

KMTV reporter Dave Roberts may have been the first reporter on the scene. Roberts told viewers he was driving to work on nearby I-680 when he heard the call of a shooting on the police radio. Roberts also reported that seven of the victims were found dead in the mall. Two others died enroute - or at - local hospitals.

At 5:16 p.m., KMTV reported that it received information from the Sarpy County Sheriff's Department regarding the suicide note referenced earlier by WOWT and KETV.

Four minutes later, KETV revealed the name of the shooter as "Robert A. Hawkins." A caller identified as "Shawn" said Hawkins "did a lot of things he shouldn't have done." "He was bouncing around jobs and got kicked out of Papillion-LaVista schools about two years ago," Shawn said.

More than an hour after Omaha Police revealed that the shooter used a rifle to commit the slayings, KETV's "breaking news" crawl read, "Don't know what type of gun was used."

KPTM was first to abandon wall-to-wall coverage of the incident.

Omaha bloggers were quick to weigh in on the tragedy, as well as on local message boards such as and

At 5:35 p.m. Barthelemy interviewed a woman identified as "Debra" who was identified as the "owner of the home of the shooter" (WOWT was not naming him at the time) and that she found out that the 19-year-old had lost his job earlier Wednesday. "Part of the note said he had snapped," Debra said. Barthelemy also reported that Omaha Police were set to arrive at the home with a search warrant. At 5:41 p.m., Knicely and co-anchor Tracy Madden identified the shooter as "Robert "Robbie" Hawkins."

At 5:45 p.m., KMTV had not yet made a decision to carry the Creighton-Xavier basketball game, which was scheduled to tipoff at 7:05 p.m. in Cincinnati.

Thirteen minutes after WOWT - and 28 minutes after KETV - KMTV reported the name of the shooter as "18-year-old Robert Hawkins."

Farrah Fazal of KETV began broadcasting live at Hawkins' home around 5:50 p.m. She also interviewed the woman WOWT identified as "Debra." Fazal reported that Hawkins had been fired from McDonald's, that Sarpy County Sheriff's deputies had blocked off the road to the house and that Omaha Police were not yet on the scene. She also said Debra said the suicide note read that Hawkins "would go out being famous." KETV also broadcast video of the home in Bellevue's Quail Creek neighborhood.

KMTV broadcast a statement from President Bush at 6 p.m., expressing his sympathy for the Omaha community. Coincidentally, Bush was in Omaha earlier in the day, visiting a South Omaha business and the home of prominent Omaha businessman Walter Scott.

Yahoo posted a slideshow of the incident, courtesy of Associated Press photographers.

KETV reporter Carol Kloss said approximately 100 people who were inside the mall at the time of the shooting were still being debriefed more than four hours later.

Omaha radio station KSRZ "Star 104.5 FM" announced that morning show co-hosts Glennboy and Glo will take listener calls to hear the stories of those affected by the tragedy. The station also invited its listeners to post messages on its community message board on the front page of its website.

At 6:30 p.m., KMTV reporter Devon Patton reported from outside Hawkins' home by phone just moments before the station established a live picture. Williams, a Bellevue native herself, was very familiar with the neighborhood and shared some background information on it with viewers. Patton said he learned Hawkins was a hunter and experienced shooter. A chyron accompanying his report noted that Hawkins was 19, not 18, as the station previously reported. Later, Patton introduced his taped interview with "Debra" (shot in the station's live truck) by telling viewers "we're going to give you that interview right now live."

Patton's interview revealed that it was "so out of character" for Hawkins to go to a mall. "He didn't go to malls," Debra said.

Several reporters - WOWT's Mastre and KETV's Brandi Peterson - were using the parking lot of the nearby Hampton Inn to file their live reports. Coincidentally, that motel became a gathering point family members of the victims to meet with grief counselors.

WOWT terminated its live simulcast on News on One at 6:38 p.m.

KMTV reporter Chriss Knight broadcast a live (phone) interview with Schaffart, the Omaha attorney at Koley Jessen, who was shot in the arm. reported that a viewer e-mailed the station the following: "I went to school for seven years with (Hawkins) and he seemed to be a suicidal kid. During school, he would talk about killing or something along those lines."

(Media Watch concluded its live blogging at 6:55 p.m.)


Anonymous said...

Guess I'll stay away from Westroads for a while.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I would worry about the Westroads, as security will probably be beefed up. I think I will worry about a good number of other places around the metro though.

Anonymous said...

KFAB has Tom Stanton on the scene as well as audio with KETV.. Sounds like the entire building is working on the air.

Anonymous said...

Good thing the Westroads placed one of those "Gun Free Zone" stickers there so people can hide in the clothing racks..


Yea, that gun free zone really worked..

AJ said...

Sad sad day for Omaha.

JoeySmalls said...

World Herald web-site....what a total JOKE!! Anytime anything big happens it cripples up and dies. Who wants up to the minute news when you can can always read about it tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Even if there would not have been a "gun free zone" sign posted, this would have happened. It's tragic and sad and proves the point that it is not safe anywhere anymore. The world has grown darker...

Anonymous said...

kmtv was the first to stop streaming coverage on its website. i am out of town & have been relying on websites. didn't think i could depend more on kptm than action 3rd.

Anonymous said...

I'm still watching it on KMTVs web site, lots of demand Im sure

Brian said...

Very sad day, indeed. :-(

Anonymous said... is getting p0wned right now

Anonymous said...

KETV is reporting the gunman as 19 year old Robert Hawkins of Bellevue

Anonymous said...

Didn't KE show pictures of two black men who they identified as gunmen earlier today?
Guess this this their third shooter of the day!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a job for James Martin Davis!!!!!

Anonymous said...

@ 3:32 PM - I believe the pictures they showed were pictures taken by viewers. The pictures showed men in handcuffs (at least the one I saw) in a camoflage jacket, though the pic was pretty blurry.

There was so much going on early in the story that there was a lot of speculating by everyone before things could be confirmed.

Anonymous said...

KPTM also stopped coverage earlier I think around 3:30 PM and then restarted with their scheduled 4:00 PM newscast

Michael Carnes said...

5:50 pm -- World Herald website is kaput. Can't get there from here...or anywhere else, I'm sure.

Michael Carnes said...

Lincoln Journal-Star website is available and has info...

Anonymous said...

Almost as funny as being down for most of the afternoon is that crappy little excuse for a blog they threw up.

The World-Herald is so out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

Norway coverage:

Woody Howe said...

Let me be the first to blame this senseless act on the World-Herald.

Didn't the newspaper glorify the killings by Charles Starkweather just three days ago?

Anonymous said...

I don't know who "First Responder" Brian Lathem is, but he really needs some lessons in writing. Channel 6 went to a package from him and the first line was: "It was supposed to be a fun day of shopping at Westroads" That terrible open was followed by awkward silence and a terrible edit.

Anonymous said...

you must be kidding me. channel 3 reporter "must" have been a guy in a black hoodie. yes...she actually said that! channel 6 reporter states........Von Maur security folks must have been on break, yes....she actually said that! channel 7 reporter states....I have been in those secret tunnels under the mall before....and they are quite scary, yes.....he actually said that! do I even need to post what Becka from KFAB asked of someone? stay ain't over yet

Anonymous said...

I've been watching coverage on the various channels. I have to say Tracy Madden is doing a heck of a good job. John Kniceley, on the other hand, isn't really good at doing this kind of thing on the fly.

Then I saw Julie Cornell, talking to some girl on the phone inside the mall. Julie actually called the girl "hon" while talking to her. Kind of sweet.

Anonymous said...

that norwegian website that somebody posted earlier is streaming KETV's live coverage still at 10:00 p.m.

Anonymous said...

By 3:30 the message board on one of the WOWT stories had already turned into a gun control debate.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to everyone who lost a loved one or who had to witness such a massacre today. It's truely horrible when Omaha becomes the big story in the nation with something like this.
Again, I feel for those involved in today's events.

Anonymous said...

I'm just overwhelmed...

Anonymous said...

first! omg who was the first person to report this detail, that's not a race or a competition, people. something pretty f'ed up happened here and now omaha is in the center of the national spotlight. stop getting such a boner from being the first on the scene, the first to report exit wound size, etc. be respectful and work together.

Anonymous said...

iF there was a shining star in all of this grim day it was that we did not have to hear Matt Perrault.

I see that his blog says it will be silent for the next few days as part of a memorial to the victims.

Isn't his blog silent most of the time anyway?

JD said...

WOWT's Web page Wednesday and Thursday has a banner ad for Creighton University Medical Center. The ad has been above photos of people taken away in ambulances, presumably to Creighton. The ad says "We Win Some. You Lose Some." The ad is for weight loss surgery, but that fact is in microscopic type. In light of the tragedy, it's incredibly eerie.

Anonymous said...

This tragedy -- which of course is our fault, not the murderer's -- was clearly preventable . . . the signs should have been bigger.

evan said...

i knew robbie and im firends with his brother rip victims.

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