This is one of those cases that touch on the issue of mental health services and the lack of understanding, not just in a community but even in the medical field of just how serious things can become and how despite all efforts given to get someone help people can be failed. This is a case in which eight people were killed and four people injured in a mass shooting before the perpetrator took his own life, those twelve people were hardly the only victims here. The perpetrators family, at least those who were involved in his life in a helping way, as well as yes, the perpetrator himself are victims. This always seems to be such a hard thing for society to accept but until you have dealt with someone with a mental illness and dealt with the system that is supposed to be there to help you, it is one of those subjects it is best to stay quiet about in my opinion.
When an individual commits a crime or even accused of a crime, society is all to quick to demonize the person. Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you that there are not those that deserve it in the end, but community members often do not look at all the facts before placing judgment. And, in cases such as this one, when the perpetrator is no longer alive to demonize, people look elsewhere to find someone else to blame. When mental illness is brought up little changes. In fairness, I do believe that mental illness is often brought up more often than it should be, or can be proven, as well as the fact that criminals often seem to want to “run” to that excuse for their crimes and so the skepticism from general society is a bit warranted. I know personally of a situation in which the perpetrator clearly was mentally ill and yet instead of speaking to professionals or investigators as himself, he “acted” in a way in which he thought “crazy people” should act and all but prevented obtaining help because his “act” was so transparent. This was all his attempt to get away with the crime he had committed. It failed. I should also be clear in stating that while I do have some sympathy for the mentally ill and I absolutely know that the mental health system does not just have cracks, but craters, in their system, that I do not believe it is an excuse to not pay in some way for committing a crime. I have often stated that there are situations in which the loved ones of the perpetrator has tried desperately to get them help only to have wall after wall placed in front of them that when the crime is committed I feel as if the “professionals” deserve to be at the defendant table also.
On December 5, 2007 nineteen year old Robbie Hawkins walked into Westroads Shopping Mall in Omaha Nebraska and opened fire about 1:45 in the afternoon. By the time he was done, six minutes later, six employees of the mall and two customers would be dead and then Robbie would turn the gun on himself. There has never been a question as to who committed this crime and there has even surprisingly been little argument that Robbie had mental issues. But, as I said before even when investigators cannot rightfully legally blame anyone but Robbie for his actions, without Robbie alive society wants to blame someone that can shoulder guilt.
I first heard of this story on the show Evil Lives Here on the Investigation Discovery channel. Throughout the show most of the interviews were done with Robbie's father, Ronald and his former stepmother. There seemed to be very little from anyone else except those involved with the crime itself. It was only through my research that I heard things from other people, including Robbie's mother, Maribel and Debora Kovac, the woman at the home he was staying with at the time of his rampage. While some viewers of the Evil Lives Here program, at least in my opinion, seemed rather harsh toward actions, taken by Robbie's father and stepmother, I believe if the other two women had been featured their anger would have been re-directed. Do I think that anger would have been warranted? Maybe.
Robbie's parents divorced when he was two and a half years old. It apparently was a contentious divorce. Within a year or so Ronald had remarried and apparently he had custody of both Robbie and his older sister. By the age of four Robbie was put into therapy. He was experiencing outbursts periodically for a while apparently but the last straw was when he attacked a child in a preschool program and was expelled. By the time he was six his mother, Maribel, was no longer apparently in his life. They would have no contact with each other until Robbie was seventeen years old. It is unclear exactly what happened or what the reasoning was for the estrangement as far as I could tell or if it had any relation to do with his issues. But it also appears that it was around this age that Robbie began what would be a lifetime of going in and out of hospitals for care. By the age of fourteen he was back in the hospital once again after expressing “homicidal threats” to his step-mother. Throughout all this time he had been on and off different medications and in and out of so called professional care. By this last time the state now had custody of him. While his father and stepmom still had some contact and visitation with him, for the next four years he would live in foster homes when he was not in the hospital. Over the years the most it seems he had been diagnosed with was ADHD, ODD and what has only been described as “unspecified” mood disorders.
While as I stated earlier the mental health system is greatly flawed when it comes to children it is even more so, but in fairness it is often difficult to diagnose children with specific disorders and puberty surely does not help. There is a vast difference between diagnosing a child with ADHD and diagnosing a child with bi-polar or a schizophrenic disorder and rightfully so in my opinion. While some professionals will privately tell parents that their child has bi-polar, schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, technically they cannot diagnose a child with this due to not just the guidelines but because of their age. Sure, we see kids on medication all the time that treat these disorders but professionals will all but tell you that the medications to treat these, as well as ADHD or even autism are all the same. The act of diagnosing these disorders become harder as the child ages because during the teenage years moodiness is not a disorder, but more a way of life for them. The problem that arises here is that despite parental effort to get help for their child, at least those that will openly admit they need help, while they still have legal control over them, it is not until after the child is already of legal age that these disorders are generally diagnosed. And, once that happens few have control of anything. At that point the now adult child has more of a right to make their own choices and while decades ago it was much easier to “force” someone to get help, that is not the case anymore. It appears that as a society when it comes to mental health we have gone from one extreme to another. In years past a family member could go and talk to a doctor and despite what the patient states they could have a family member committed to a hospital and the doctors could keep them for as long as they wanted. This is why you hear so many horror stories about institutions in the 1950's and 1960's. Parents or spouses (especially husbands) could have their children and spouses removed for just about anything and very little could be done to get them out. Heaven forbid one of those patients express anger at their situation because that only made them look worse to the professionals, and if they got to the point where they were not being able to be controlled the doctors simply medicated them until they had no feeling whatsoever and were almost “zombie” like. This surely stopped any outbursts they may have had. So, recognizing that not all the institutionalized people needed nor warranted the treatment they were receiving, and citing civil right violations the rules were changed. All the power started being given to the patient. Today, unless a crime is committed or the person has made a serious suicide attempt few are forced to get any help despite any reports made by families. And then the insurance companies step in and that become another issue that I could spend days ranting about. In the end though what has resulted from all of this is that less people are helped when they truly need it. And, in the midst of all of this are children, who again, cannot be fully diagnosed and much resistance is shown in treatment.
So often in these cases then the parents are blamed. They are blamed for not controlling their children or teaching them properly. And yet what many do not seem to get it is that it is difficult for a parent to admit they cannot control their child, despite their efforts. Nor does it seem that parents that do admit this and take the extra steps, such as what Robbie's father and step-mother did are given any slack either. It does not appear that during the next three to four years, while in the care of the state that much was different when it came to Robbie's behaviors. He was expelled from high school in October of 2005 after attempting to sell drugs to a classmate. He was also convicted of a minor drug offense while still in foster care. He still obviously had issues with his step-mother and expressed them which resulted in his inability to return to his father's care and again, his mother did not seem to be in the picture. Ronald and his wife decided to divorce. They have stated that they still very much loved each other but decided that in order for Robbie to come home it would be best. It is unclear if Maribel, his mother, came back into the picture before or after Robbie returned to his father's home after nearly four years of living in state care. However, it appears that coming home was not the answer as things did not go well at his dad's home once again. It seems that little had changed except he was bigger and stronger than he was when he left. Rules did not seem to apply to him in his mind and resentment and anger probably contributed. He did not seem to stay long at his dad's and it is unclear if he then tried living with his mom, who by now was remarried, or not.
By the time of the shooting Robbie was living in a home with two of his friends and their mother, Debora Kovac. Kovac would later describe Robbie as “a lost puppy that no body wanted.” I am unsure with everything I have read about him and his issues that statement is accurate. But, to be fair I am uncertain just how much Kovac knew of Robbie's background and where she obtained that information. Did she get it from Robbie? Did she get it from his mom, Maribel, who seemingly later would come up with her own excuses for her choices? Did she get it from a state worker? It is also unclear just how long Kovac had known Robbie and was aware of his issues. There always seems to be that one person in a case who thinks they know a person or a situation but in reality they do not know half as much as they claim. In my opinion both Kovac and Maribel will go on to play larger roles in Robbie's shooting spree than either his father, step-mother, or any therapist or state worker (if there were any).
There seemed to be some reports that there may have been issues between Robbie and his step-father which may have contributed to one of the reasons in which he did not live with them, but in fairness keep in mind Maribel was not in his life for eleven of his nineteen years. On November 24th, less than two weeks before the shooting spree Robbie had been “ticketed” for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two alcohol charges. He was due in court on December 19th. Was he facing jail time? I am unsure. A week before the shooting spree he had been fired from his job at McDonald's for apparently stealing just under twenty dollars. He had also recently split up from his girlfriend. It seems that on the night of December 4th he would have dinner with his mother. Maribel, who now was divorced it seems was house sitting for her ex-husband and the dinner took place at his home. Maribel would later say that Robbie seemed to be acting odd that night but that she chose to “ignore it” and not confront him. At some point either that evening or the next day Maribel would realize that one of her ex-husband's semi-automatic rifle's were missing. Kovac would later say she saw the gun at her home the evening before the shooting but she too apparently ignored it due to the fact that she had apparently been around guns often and nothing set off a red flag.
These admissions by Maribel and Kovac bother me enormously. While as I said above I am unsure how much Kovac knew about Robbie's past or where she got the information, she did at some point state that he had lived with her for about a year and a half and that when he had come to her home he would often be in the fetal position and chew his nails. I agree that not everyone is trained to notice some behaviors of people are are not mentally stable but one can hardly argue that the behavior she described was normal behavior. The fact that Kovac admits seeing the gun and apparently knowing that it was there because of Robbie and yet not only does it seem she did not talk to him about it or anyone else seems nothing short of neglectful. Granted Robbie was considered to be a grown adult at this point in his life and when you hear the word neglect you most often equate it to children, but neglect is neglect whether it is a child or an adult. She clearly knew that this young man not only had issues in the past but she apparently knew of some of his recent issues and she opted not only not to talk to him about the gun but ignore the situation all together.
There seems to be about different reports about what transpired and at what point the police knew anything. In fairness I will start with the report that they were alerted as to the location obviously through 911 calls made by patrons of the mall. It was said that the police arrive within six minutes of the first call which in reality ended up being just as the spree was over considering was said to have lasted six minutes. Maribel would later say, she made an appearance on the Dr. Phil show, that she attempted to get a hold of Robbie that day, indicating she was concerned due to the issues of his behavior the night before and the missing gun. She would indicate that she then at some point went to the Kovac home and a suicide note was found and the authorities would be contacted. Reports are that this was about an hour before the actual shooting and it is unclear if there was any indication that there was any way of knowing for sure what he was going to do, let alone where. Within the note it was said...”I just want to take a few pieces of shit with me... just think tho, I'm gonna be fucking famous.” Kovac would say however that Robbie called her and while not a lot about the phone call is known, other than Robbie expressing gratitude to her, he apparently told her where to find the note. There seems to be some indication that the police were notified prior to the shooting about Robbie and about the note but it is not clear just who contacted them and what actually led up to things.
I mentioned a bit ago that Maribel made an appearance on the Dr. Phil show in 2009. I admit that I did not see the episode and only heard of it through my research. She also made an appearance on Good Morning America about a week after the shooting to apologize for Robbie's actions. I have tried hard to find out more information on the circumstances surrounding her lack of presence in Robbie's life. Initial reports that came out after her GMA interview saying that she lost custody upon the divorce and at some point went “more than two years without contact.” It was in the Dr. Phil article that it stated she had no contact from age six to eleven. A few weeks after the shooting a judge ordered that some files relating to Robbie be released as people had questions about how the shooting had come about. In those reports it stated that at the time in which Robbie was placed in state care when he was fourteen the location of Maribel was unknown. Another area stated that at some point in July of 2005 Maribel had requested visitation (although it is unclear if she did this through the courts) and then told Robbie, who was still in state care, that he could come and live with her but if he did some he would not be allowed contact with his father. Later at some point two of Maribel's siblings were interviewed about any knowledge they had of Robbie. They both indicated that he had been a “happy” child but that not only did neither of them have a lot of contact with him over the years, of which they blamed Robbie's father, but also apparently neither of them had spoken to Maribel herself in nearly five years or more. One of the siblings indicated that Maribel did have contact with the children, although maybe sporadically over the years and also that Maribel herself had suffered off and on with depression. It appears though that neither of the siblings lived nearby and had any first hand true knowledge of any situation that may or may not have been going on within the Hawkins household..
In my quest to discover the issues of estrangement with Maribel I also came across an article that stated that when the files were released after the shooting there was a huge indication that drugs had played a large part in Robbie's life. I found this interesting as it stated that according to Robbie he began smoking marijuana at the age of thirteen. What, according to him began as a three or four times a week habit, turned into an every day habit although the only report I found on any toxicology related to Valium being in his system and only at therapeutic levels. There was a report included that stated in January of 2006 Robbie had attempted suicide by taking several Tylenol pills. It also stated that while he could have remained in state care until his nineteenth birthday social workers and others agreed to have him released nine months early in August of 2006. He was not released because he was better or doing well. In fact, he was released solely because he was not being cooperative with the care and no one felt that nine months would make any difference, including Ronald Hawkins. According to the case workers the state had done all they could do with him, and yet one has to wonder what it is they did for him other than house him. There is absolutely no indication that they controlled him any better, or got him any better care than his father and step-mother had done. He was only removed from their home when it was reasonable feared that he would injure his step-mother. He made similar threats while in state care it seems. Once he apparently threatened to burn a facility down if he was sent there. It was unclear if he was still sent to that facility or if another option was found, but regardless of the decision nothing changed. And, in the end eight innocent people were needlessly gunned down while four others were seriously injured before Robbie ever took his own life.
This case has been difficult for me to blog about for a few reason. The biggest is my aversion to the mental health community and their “rules” and ways. I have stated before that my husband, and his family has a history of mental illness so it is something that I have dealt with for nearly twenty years. I have seen all stages when it comes to the mentally ill and I have dealt with more people than I care to count when it comes to helping in that care. I have learned that those who accept and embrace their mental illness do the best but in the same respect they are often the least heard. I mentioned before that laws have changed so much giving the patient more rights but the funny thing is that when someone admits they need care so often they are told that the fact they realize there is an issue means the issue is not as big as they have portrayed. And yet I have also been in a situation in which my husband and I have requested a meeting with a doctor to discuss issues about his mother and future care only to be given only a social worker and when asked if we had come to the point in which she should not be able to live alone the social worker did not make a judgment but asked my mother in law if she felt she could live alone. Because she answered that she felt she could live alone (she is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic) we were told that she could.
I also have issues with this case because I know of a child now that has made threats to adults, who has the outbursts that have been described as Robbie having, who has gotten child protective services, the police and therapists involved and yet nothing seems to be getting done. This child is ten... he, like Robbie is only going to get bigger, stronger and have more destructive ideas that he may or may not act upon and yet little is being done despite the effort being made to get him help as well as keep others safe. I can completely see myself sitting down one day and writing about that child and knowing however many years from now it is, that at this moment he was being failed by a failing system. There have been those in the professional field who have voiced that they feel based on what they know that this child is a sociopath but we live in a world in which he has to do something destructive before anything will be done and then society will blame people for not doing something before. We can only home that the “something destructive” is nothing like the magnitude of Robbie's crime. But the system makes you sit and wait and that's not just wrong for potential innocent victims but it is wrong for the mentally ill.