In the middle film in George Romero's "Dead" trilogy, Dawn of the Dead, a handful of survivors of the plague that has turned most of the world's population into flesh-eating zombies take refuge in a large Midwestern shopping mall. One of the reasons I like the film is for the images of people wandering through a mall, shooting brain-dead zombies with assault weapons.
I hate malls. My hatred of malls probably has a clynical name I would know were I to seek help and a proper diagnosis. After two or three minutes at most I find it difficult to breathe, I start sweating and, if I can't immediately start for an exit, things could get ugly. But, rather than seek treatment, I simply stay away from malls. Look Ma, no Prozac.
The plastic world that drove the young Benjamin Braddock to the deep end of the pool and into the arms of Ann Bancroft is upon us and, except for Aimesville, Ohio, and some remote parts of Pakistan, there's not much getting away from it.
The greatest danger we face is that a justifiable cynicism (the final refuge of the true romantic) might generate a noise loud enough to drown out the sound of our own compassion.
The news media flocks to events like the Nebraska mall shootings like so many carrion birds to fresh road kill, and with a similar degree of thoughtfulness. In the furor and frenzy of the coverage I have been able to find some actual information that helps create some sense of the real lives of the eight people who were murdered by the gunman (who was sufficiently self-aware to understand that he was about to become "famous").
Ten years ago around this time I was sitting in a train that was about to pull out of the station at Oxford and head to London. The platform was full of people and I remember a remarkable moment when I looked out at the crowd and it exploded in my mind and every single individual seemed to tunnel backwards into a line of their ancestors and forward into a possible future and sideways into the lives of the people they knew, around each of whom similar tunnels appeared.
It's impossible to describe, it was like what suddenly being able to perceive the fourth dimension might be like. It was over quickly, with the first movement of the train, but it left the impression that it had lasted forever.
But I digress....
The material below is taken from Associated Press reports that appeared in the Washington Post and on the CNN web site.
Gary Scharf was on his way home to Lincoln after a business trip in Iowa when he stopped at the Von Maur store.
"I'm sure he got in front of other people" and took a bullet that might have hit someone else, said his ex-wife, Kim Scharf. "There's no doubt in my mind, I promise you. That's who he is, to a fault."
Scharf, 48, sold agricultural products and was devoted to helping people, she said. Recently he helped a single mom get her car started, then got her address and delivered a package of groceries and blankets to her doorstep, she said.
"I called him my Dudley-do-right," Kim Scharf said. "I'm not kidding. You'd never meet a more honorable and loyal man."
Raised in a small Nebraska town, Gary Scharf graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Kim Scharf said the couple divorced about three years ago, but "he followed me out of divorce court and said we'd remarry in six months." They saw each other every day and were planning to get married.
Beverly Flynn, a gift wrapper at the Von Maur, also had been a real estate agent for NP Dodge Co. since last year.
Whenever she closed a deal, the 47-year-old Omaha woman planted a rose bush in the yard of the new homeowners as a move-in gift, company spokeswoman Susan Young said.
"That was her way to put her style on the whole transaction," Young said. "She was a very warm individual."
Shot in the chest, Flynn was taken to Creighton University Medical Center, where attempts to resuscitate her failed.
"All we know is that a fine human being has been taken from us prematurely, and that she and the other victims will be greatly missed," said Sandy Dodge, president of NP Dodge, in a letter to employees.
Angie Schuster had planned to teach elementary school after graduating from college, but when she couldn't find a job in the field, she started working in retail, said her older sister, Donna Kenkel.
Schuster, 36, of Omaha, was a manager in the girls' department at Von Maur, where she had worked for nearly 10 years, Kenkel said. The department is near the third-floor elevator, which Kenkel said meant "she probably didn't have any chance, any warning" against the gunman.
"They said he got off the elevator, and she would have been right there in his way," she said.
The sisters were born 11 months apart and lived about a mile from each other. They last saw each other Sunday, at a child's birthday party at the Omaha zoo.
"She was in a very happy place in her life. She met a man," Kenkel said. "They were so happy."
Dianne Trent, a store employee, spent warm evenings tending to the flowers on her porch, drinking tea and chatting with her neighbor, Errol Schlenker.
"A very incredibly sweet person," Schlenker said. "She was a middle-of-the-road American, a dedicated worker. She was just a decent person who lived a good life here." Divorced many years ago and with no children, Trent, 53, lived in a northwest Omaha town house with a small dog and two cats, Schlenker said.
"She called me a couple times when she was afraid of something, when she heard noises outside," he said. "I know she was always concerned about her safety as far as the way things were going in society and being a single woman."
Janet Jorgensen, a longtime employee in Von Maur's gift department, was popular with co-workers and customers alike, her daughter-in-law said.
Almost everyone who shopped there seemed to know the 66-year-old Omaha woman because of her friendly, outgoing personality, said the daughter-in-law, who didn't want her name used.
Jorgensen, who worked at the store since it opened about a dozen years ago, is survived by a husband, three children and eight grandchildren.
John McDonald, 65, and his wife, Kathy, of nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa, were getting Christmas gifts wrapped when the shooting broke out, AP reported. He was fatally wounded as they tried to hide behind a chair.
"He was one of the greatest people anyone could hope to meet," Kathy McDonald told AP. "He had a fantastic sense of humor. He was so accepting of people."
John McDonald's brother P.J. is the chaplain for the Clive, Iowa, police and fire departments.
"People enjoying their Christmas shopping on a pleasant afternoon, and then to have nine lives lost -- one of them my brother. It's a terrible thing," P.J. McDonald told CNN affiliate KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa.
"My brother was a gentle soul. If there was one thing that would be a characteristic of his, it was the fact that he did not like violence."
Despite his training, McDonald said he can't minister to himself.
"I can be a chaplain for other people, but on my own behalf, I am useless. I am devastated by this horrible turn of events," he told KCCI. "When I heard it, I had no response. I sat there and cried. That's all I could do." McDonald said he hopes the Omaha tragedy will make people everywhere stop to look at their own lives.
"I again invite people observing this to take some time and think about where we are with some of our violent acts that we no longer need to entertain, and just softening of the heart."
Gary Joy's mother, Inez Joy, told KETV her son visited her often at her retirement community. She said he loved to write stories and poetry and was pursuing a degree in literature at Bellevue University.
She said her son's decision to donate his organs was typical of the way he always helped others.
"I've been through tragedy before," his mother said. "You hurt. There's not a thing you can do about it."
Joy, 56, was a Von Maur employee who had homes in Omaha and in Denver, Colorado, AP reported.
Maggie Webb, the youngest victim at 24, came to the Omaha Von Maur store this year from one in Chicago, according to AP.
The Moline, Illinois, native had a degree in business administration, according to AP."One of my staff commented to me about Maggie, saying, 'She was one of the good ones.' They paused, and said, 'No, one of the great ones," ' Moline High School Principal Bill Burrus told the Quad City Times, according to AP.