The gunman left a suicide note that was found at his home by his mother, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak. TV station KETV reported that the note said he wanted to "go out in style."
The official identified the gunman as Robert A. Hawkins, age 20.
Witnesses said the gunman fired down on shoppers from a third-floor balcony of the Von Maur store. One witness told a TV station that he shot up a teddy bear as he sprayed fire on shoppers.
He was found dead on the third floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his victims were discovered on the second and third floors, police said.
"My knees rocked. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran with everybody else," said Kevin Kleine, 29, who was shopping with her 4-year-old daughter at the Westroads Mall, in a prosperous neighborhood on the city's west side. She said she hid in a dressing room with four other shoppers and an employee.
Sgt. Teresa Negron said the gunman killed eight people, then apparently killed himself. Authorities gave no motive for the attack and said they did not know whether he said anything during the rampage.
Hawkins lived for a little more than a year with a friend's family in a house in a middle-class Bellevue neighborhood.
"When he first came in the house, he was introverted, a troubled young man who was like lost pound puppy that nobody wanted," said Debora Maruca, who owns the home.
Maruca said Hawkins was fired from his job at a nearby McDonald's this week and had recently broken up with a girlfriend.
Police received a 911 call from someone inside the mall, and shots could be heard in the background, Negron said. By the time officers arrived six minutes later, the shooting was over, she said.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that the gunman had a military-style haircut and a black backpack, and wore a camouflage vest.
"Everybody was scared, and we didn't know what was going on," said Belene Esaw-Kagbara, 31, a Von Maur employee. "We didn't know what to do. I was praying that God protect us."
Mickey Vickory, who worked at Von Maur's third-floor service department, said she heard shots at about 1:50 p.m.
She and her co-workers and customers went into a back closet behind the wrapping room to hide, then emerged about a half-hour later when police shouted to come out with their hands up. As police took them to another part of the mall for safety, they saw the victims.
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"We saw the bodies and we saw the blood," she said.
Keith Fidler, another Von Maur employee, said he heard a burst of five to six shots followed by 15 to 20 more rounds. Fidler said he huddled in the corner of the men's clothing department with about a dozen other employees until police yelled to get out of the store.
Witness Shawn Vidlak said the shots sounded like a nail gun. At first he thought it was noise from construction work at the mall.
"People started screaming about gunshots," Vidlak said. "I grabbed my wife and kids we got out of there as fast as we could."
Shortly after the shooting, which came three weeks before Christmas, a group of shoppers came out of the building with their hands raised. Some were still holding shopping bags.
Police told people to park their cars at businesses across from the mall and to wait for their loved ones, then directed them to an Omaha hotel to await information.
President Bush was in Omaha on Wednesday for a fundraiser, but left about an hour before the shooting.
"Having just visited with so many members of the community in Omaha today, the president is confident that they will pull together to comfort one another," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
The Von Maur store is part of a 22-store Midwestern chain. The sprawling, three-level mall has more than 135 stores and restaurants. It gets 14.5 million visitors every year, according to its Web site.
It was the second mass shooting at a mall this year. In February, nine people were shot, five of them fatally, at Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City. The gunman, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic, was shot and killed by police.
Press; By OSKAR GARCIA]
Associated Press writers Anna Jo Bratton, Josh Funk, Timberly Ross and Eric Olson in Omaha and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.
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