He felt the need to apologize.
On the afternoon when Robert Butler Jr. walked into Millard South High School brandishing a handgun, on the afternoon when he killed a longtime assistant principal and severely wounded the principal, on the afternoon when he shattered a run-of-the-mill Wednesday and reminded Omaha what this sort of tragedy feels like, the 17-year-old logged onto Facebook.
He typed a message that begins with this:
“Everybody that used to know me I'm sry but Omaha changed me and f----- me up and the school I know attend is even worse ur gomna here about the evil s--- I did ...”
Wednesday afternoon, everyone heard about the evil stuff that Robert Butler Jr. had done.
His father heard. The soft-spoken Omaha police detective spends most of his time investigating unspeakable crimes against children. Wednesday afternoon, a police lieutenant pulled Robert Butler Sr. into his office and broke the unspeakable news.
His mother heard. Julie Beekman is a manager at a human resources firm in south Lincoln. According to state records, she owns the red Honda Accord that her son drove, speeding away from the school and screeching into a Millard-area parking lot, where he reportedly revved the engine and then killed himself in the driver's seat.
His friends — a big, happy cluster of friends, mostly from Lincoln Southwest High School — heard the news and simply refused to believe it.
One heard that a Robert Butler was dead, Googled the news on his cell phone and still figured it was a different Robert Butler. No way it was the skinny jokester he knew.
Another curled up on her bed and cried, remembering the times when she couldn't sleep. She would call her friend Robert. He would tell her stories until her eyelids sagged.
They sketch a picture of a teenager struggling with his move from Lincoln to Omaha, struggling to find his place in a new school — but also a dimple-chinned, outgoing high school senior who, by sheer force of personality, would surely make his new situation work. Surely. Right?
“He was like the nicest person ever,” said Mirela Kulovac, a 16-year-old junior at Lincoln Southwest.
“He was always like the cool kid. Everybody loved him,” said Mercedez Alford, a 15-year-old sophomore.
“He was so popular,” said Yasmine Kamelian, a 14-year-old freshman.
Mustafa Attaie, a 17-year-old senior, heard the news when 15 minutes remained in the Lincoln Southwest school day. A friend had received a text. Robert was dead.
No way, Attaie scoffed.
He checked his phone and saw the news: A shooter by the name of Robert Butler had allegedly wounded two and then turned a gun on himself.
No way, Attaie thought. It's a common name.
He tried to text his buddy Robert. No reply. He tried to call him. No answer.
He turned back to his cell phone and saw that the alleged shooter drove a red Honda Accord.
“It was him,” Attaie said Wednesday night. “I couldn't see him doing this. ... Nobody saw this coming.”
The news was particularly shocking, friends said, because Robert had a gregarious reputation.
He loved to wear purple. He sometimes sculpted his hair into an Afro.
He never exhibited aggression toward Southwest High staff members, Southwest Principal Rob Slauson said. He seemed to be “a fairly normal, average” student, the principal said.
“Obviously, we were in shock,” Slauson said. “He was popular with students and seemed real pleasant.”
Butler had long lived with his mother, most recently in a ranch-style home in south Lincoln where Christmas wreaths still hung on the doors Wednesday.
Several friends interviewed said Butler was angry that his parents made him move to his father's Omaha apartment in early October.
The reasons for that move were unclear Wednesday: Butler hadn't been expelled from Lincoln Southwest, school officials said. Several friends obliquely referred to some trouble that Butler had gotten into in Lincoln, though they refused to specify it.
Butler arrived at Millard South accompanied by his father, according to a person familiar with the case.
Butler Sr. told school officials that his son was transferring at midsemester. Millard administrators tried to talk him out of that decision, since his son needed only two classes to graduate from Lincoln Southwest in December. His father stood firm.
But while school officials could tell that the 17-year-old was angry about the decision, they didn't consider him dangerous or threatening.
Butler had received mostly A's and B's in Lincoln.
“He was never a discipline issue,” the person said. “He was a good, above-average student.”
His father is a highly regarded police detective who works in the child victim unit of Project Harmony, where the walls are plastered with cartoon characters and the floors are covered in toys.
But the detective's cases were anything but Disney.
He served as the lead investigator in the 2007 death of a 1-year-old baby at the hands of his foster father.
The detective's hours-long interview of the child's father was essential in securing a conviction in the case.
Recently, the detective has investigated the severe beating and sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman and the drowning of a 4-year-old girl in an Omaha hotel pool. He is known for his ability to build rapport with both victims and defendants, police say.
Susan Clark, a former Omaha police officer, worked with Robert Butler Sr. in the child victim unit before she retired three years ago.
She said he constantly talked about his kids and prominently displayed their photos on his desk.
“He made great efforts to be a good father figure to his kids because it was something missing in his life, and he wanted it for his children,” Clark said.
The police detective and his son appeared close, said Leslie Moss, who lives across the hall from Butler Sr.'s apartment.
She exchanged pleasantries with the 17-year-old five or six times, most recently a cheery, “What's up?” a couple of weeks ago as he entered the building.
She had seen several boys over a couple of times, but mostly she saw the teenager with his father.
“Every time I saw him he was with his dad,” Moss said. “He seemed happy. They were talking and laughing.”
Classmates at Millard South High School said Butler was relatively popular once he settled in. A few friends, but hardly the big man on campus.
But he had trouble staying focused in some classes, one student said. He'd goof off, tell jokes, make rude comments, try to annoy the teacher. He'd get in trouble for his antics.
“He just didn't take it seriously,” one student said.
As late as New Year's Eve, Robert Butler Jr. appeared to be in high spirits, according to co-workers at an Omaha Panera Bread.
Kate Waller, a 17-year-old Millard West senior, worked with the new employee that night, teaching him how to tidy up the restaurant after a day's worth of making sandwiches and ladling soup.
Butler had just started at Panera, but he didn't seem self-conscious or shy like most new workers are, Waller said.
Butler asked Waller and the other employees about their high schools. He told a police officer who came in for dinner that his dad was an Omaha police officer, too.
He quizzed Waller on her New Year's Eve plans.
“It was surprising. ... People would be talking, and he would jump in there and talk to all of us,” Waller said. “He was just like, ‘Hi, I'm Robert.' I would've never guessed that anything was wrong at school by any means.”
But four days later, Robert Butler Jr. was typing out what would be his last Facebook update.
The first sentence is a rambling, 68-word run-on, alternately contrite and angry, the sort of thing Butler's friends never thought he'd write.
“I wont u guys to remember me for who I was b4 this ik I greatly affected the lives of the families ruined but I'm sorry.”
The next sentence, the last one, is a simple one.
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