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Trolley Square: A search for answers

Published February 15, 2007 12:28 am

Shooter's relatives in disbelief over Monday's tragedy, say they had no explanation for the rampage; the family wants to take the teen's body back to the Balkan homeland where he spent childhood years witnessing the horrors of the brutal Bosnian war
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He fled a war with his family as a child and came to Utah as a refugee. He floated from school to school before dropping out. A Muslim, he sometimes attended a Salt Lake City mosque for Friday prayers before landing a full-time job to help support his parents and three sisters.

Although he was a loner and withdrawn, Sulejman Talovic seemed normal and "nice" to the few people who knew him.

On Wednesday - two days after Talovic shot and killed five people and injured four others at Trolley Square - there were no good answers as to why he would do it.

There were no signs that the 18-year-old was in trouble, family members said.

"No, he was very good," his uncle, Sadik Omerovic, said Wednesday.

Talovic was shot to death by police about six minutes after he began his killing. His family says his father wants to take the body back to his homeland for burial.

The shooting rampage came as a "very big surprise for me," Omerovic said. "It just happened. We're shocked."

Also a mystery to Talovic's relatives is how he got a shotgun and handgun.

"Nobody knows," Omerovic said. "We don't know who [gave] him the guns."

Lori Dyer, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Utah, said the bureau has no information indicating Talovic obtained the guns or ammunition illegally. But the ATF still needs to do more research on the guns' histories.

Omerovic said Talovic had no history of violence. "He never, never [hurt anyone]. He was very nice person."

In an interview with KUTV 2 News, the gunman's father could not make sense of his son's violence at Trolley Square. He said his son did not take drugs. "I think somebody push him. I don't know. I'm almost crazy with what happened. Maybe somebody sell gun or give gun."

Sulejman Talovic was born in Bosnia in 1988, when that country was a peaceful and a relatively prosperous part of Yugoslavia. In 1993, a year after the Bosnian war began, he and his family were forced from their eastern Bosnian town and became refugees. He arrived in Utah with his mother in 1998, a year after his father, Suljo Talovic, arrived.

The family, which includes three girls, ages 13, 11, and 7, has a home in northwestern Salt Lake City.

Sulejman Talovic's aunt, Ajka Omerovic, said she doesn't know why her nephew became a mass murderer, but claimed neither he nor the rest of her family has any lingering psychological effects from the war in Bosnia.

"We all suffered things in war, but, no, we didn't have anything," she said.

Ajka Omerovic said she never knew her nephew to shoot firearms.

Although he quit school at 16, Sulejman Talovic often attended Friday prayers at the Al-Noor mosque on 700 East in Salt Lake City, said Salih Omerovic, Ajka's cousin.

Salih Omerovic said the young man stopped coming to the prayers in December, when he landed a full-time job at Aramark Uniform Services in South Salt Lake. He said Sulejman Talovic's father had pressured his son to get a job to help out with the family's living expenses.

Imam Ali Mohamed, the spiritual leader at Al-Noor, said he does not know Talovic.

"I know some Bosnians, but specifically this person, I don't know him," said Mohamed, a Somali who has been in Utah since 2000.

Up to 200 people turn out for Friday prayers and there is not much socializing, said Maung Maung, who attends the mosque.

Talovic's Muslim faith prompted questions about a possible political motivation for his killing spree, but the FBI in Salt Lake City said Wednesday it has no evidence that politics played a role.

FBI spokesman Patrick Kiernan said Wednesday the bureau is trying to help police determine why Sulejman Talovic killed five people, and agents have looked into whether religion or terrorism were factors.

"We're working closely with the Salt Lake P.D. and we're obviously aware that that [terrorism] is a potential issue out there," Kiernan said. "We've not seen anything that this is terrorism or an act against the government."

Before his rampage, Talovic worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and gave no one cause for alarm, said his boss, Trent Thorn, Aramark's general manager.

As always, he said, Talovic "just stayed to himself. He just worked. What people in the community are saying he was like is what he was like here."

Nothing out of the ordinary happened that day that would explain Talovic's actions, Thorn added.

The Talovic family's neighbors also said they knew little about Talovic, describing him as a quiet teen who kept to himself.

That isolation might be making it more difficult to determine why Talovic killed and wounded people at Trolley Square.

Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Robin Snyder said Wednesday that police have not discerned a motive or found anything resembling a suicide note. With the permission of Talovic's parents, detectives searched their home but did not take any computers or video games, she said.

"The family was very cooperative with officers," Snyder said.

Talovic's body is at the state medical examiner for autopsy. When it is released to the family, said aunt Ajka Omerovic, Talovic's father wants to take it to Tuzla, Bosnia, for burial.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

shunt@sltrib.com

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* Tribune reporters MICHAEL N. WESTLEY, RUSS RIZZO AND JESSICA RAVITZ and news editor BRENT ISRAELSEN contributed to this story.

SULEJMAN TALOVIC
Talovic is born in Bosnia on Oct. 6, 1988

At the age of 5, he flees the family home with his parents as Serb forces in 1993 overrun their village of Talovici during the Bosnian war.

For five years, he lives as a refugee, including a stint in Srebrenica, Bosnia, but leaves before the infamous massacre.

He moves to Utah with his family in 1998.

Talovic, 18, dies in a shootout with police after killing five people in Trolley Square on the evening of Feb. 12, 2007.