OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ On the steps of the department store where a gunman shot and killed eight people earlier this month, the talk was of forgiveness on the eve of the outlet's reopening.
``This is a very special place. A holy place,'' Father Don Shane of St. Roberts Bellarmine Parish said in a prayer Wednesday in front of about 400 people. ``You have stirred the hearts of people to show love and concern in tragedy.''
He read the names of the victims, then spoke of the 19-year-old gunman, who killed himself. ``We also entrust to you Robert Hawkins,'' Shane said, ``and we ask that we can be the antidote to weakness and sickness and pain and suffering.''
The store was set to reopen Thursday morning for the first time since the Dec. 5 shooting. Westroads Mall, where the store is an anchor, reopened Dec. 8
Volunteers removed thousands of memorials left on the steps of Von Maur. The items were loaded into 30-gallon plastic tubs, where they'll be stored. Victims' families will be allowed to look through the items and possibly keep them.
Von Maur is planning a permanent memorial but has not decided what form it will take. The department store, which paid its workers during the closure, has made counseling available to employees.
Gay Robinson Abraham made a paper snowflake earlier in the day and added it to the thousands posted on the doors of the store to remember the victims.
``I didn't realize how much it would affect me to touch the door,'' she said. ``It just seemed like a concrete thing to do.''
Pat Skwarek, of Omaha, said she goes to Von Maur twice a month and was on her way there on the day of the shooting when she was sidetracked.
Tears ran down her face as a chorus of ``Silent Night'' started from the back of the crowd Wednesday. With the words ``sleep in heavenly peace,'' people started to disperse.
``I'm not going to let it stop me. I'm going to be here tomorrow and I'll have my credit card,'' Skwarek said. ``It'll be hard at first, but we'll get past it.''
Fred Wilson, 61, the longtime manager of the customer service department at Von Maur, said he looks forward to returning to work once his injuries are healed.
Wilson was shot from behind in his right arm, the bullet severing an artery and causing severe blood loss. Another bullet, or possibly shrapnel from the first one, struck his left hand.
Doctors are unsure whether Wilson will regain full use of his arm, but he said, ``Not a day goes by that I don't feel one lucky man.''
Micky Oldham, another Von Maur employee who was wounded by Hawkins, was in fair condition at Creighton University Medical Center on Wednesday. The 65-year-old Omaha woman was shot in the back and abdomen.
A hospital spokesman said doctors weren't sure when she will be released. The third victim, a shopper, was treated and released the day of the shooting.