Whether lying in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds or standing on a sidewalk watching his home of nearly 24 years burn down, Fred Wilson puts his trust in a higher power.
“I'm just little old me,” the 66-year-old Omaha man said Sunday. “I'm nothing special, but I do know God is in charge and has a plan for me.”
Wilson, a survivor of the 2007 Von Maur shootings at Westroads Mall, was one of about 80 people displaced by a fire Friday night at a southwest Omaha apartment building. Wilson was able to save one of his two cats while escaping the Applewood Pointe apartment complex at 9506 S. Plaza with just the clothes on his back.
“I lost everything, including antiques from my grandparents, but those are just things,” Wilson said. “I'm just happy to be moving forward and live another day.”
Moving forward after a tragedy is a particular strength of Wilson's. He underwent multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy after the shooting five years ago in the department store, where he still works part time. That shooting left eight people dead, plus the shooter, who killed himself. Several other people were wounded.
On Friday, Wilson had returned home from a church dinner and was looking forward to a little TV and time with his cats, Molly and Maggie, before bed. When the fire alarm sounded about 8 p.m., Wilson put Maggie into a carrying case, but couldn't find Molly.
“I had to get out of there with my life,” said Wilson, who lived on the third floor of the building. “But I'm going to move forward and put things back into place.”
Wilson, who will be 67 in September, said he was meeting with relatives and Red Cross officials Sunday to discuss his options. He thinks it might be time to move into a retirement community.
“I was just living my life — in August I would've been at Applewood Pointe 24 years — but now I am looking for housing elsewhere,” he said. “It's time to move on.”
Friends from First United Methodist Church, where Wilson is a member, the YMCA and Von Maur have called to offer assistance. The unflappable Wilson said he is very blessed.
“I keep thinking about the victims of 9/11, the Sandy Hook shootings and the Oklahoma tornado, and I realize how truly blessed I am,” he said. “I hope to value everything even more than I have ever done, even after the Von Maur incident.”
Reflecting for a moment on the nature of tragedy, Wilson said he has come to realize that it is simply a part of life that needs to be overcome.
“It's part of the journey, and every living individual is going to have tragedy in their lives,” he said. “You have to have faith that God is directing the traffic and that God is in charge.”