FBI found Talovic had a history with Trolley Square
Editor's note: This story was originally published May 15, 2009.
When 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic walked into Trolley Square and opened fire on shoppers, he was returning to a childhood hangout, according to newly-released FBI documents.
Talovic and his family used to live one block from the mall, and one person told agents Talovic played there with his sisters as a child. Another said Talovic was at Trolley Square "every day," and that the mall "was the only place he went." Someone also recalled Talovic once got into a physical fight with someone at the mall over a video game.
The documents provide the first possible explanation for why Talovic, a Bosnian immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 9, chose the mall as the site of his rampage. They also detail racist, violent statements made by Talovic -- among them that he planned to shoot white people like Serbs, had been a member of the Klu Klux Klan, and shot someone in a drug deal gone bad.
But in 745 pages of reports, the FBI did not conclude why Talovic committed the Feb. 12, 2007, shooting or uncover any evidence of a wider plot behind them. Agents said they were also unable to find out whether a homeowner let Talovic shoot guns in his basement the year before he killed five people and wounded four before dying in a shootout with police.
Information Talovic played in Trolley Square was a surprise to David Dean, owner of the card shop where Talovic shot five of his victims. Dean said Thursday he had assumed Talovic picked the mall because it was crowded.
"I never really considered whether he had any previous history with [Trolley Square]," Dean said.
Interviews with Talovic's family and co-workers, who were not named in the reports, painted the teenager as a loner who ate lunch alone in his car and spent his evenings watching television in his basement bedroom. But it also appears Talovic was prone to making claims that sound outlandish.
The FBI wrote that Talovic in 2001 or 2002 "made a statement that he was going to shoot white people, like Serbs." The nine people Talovic shot at Trolley Square were white.
Two people went to Talovic's house a few weeks before the shooting and smoked marijuana there, documents say. One of the people later told the FBI Talovic said he liked white supremacist music.
"I don't like black people," Talovic reportedly said. "That's why I was in the KKK."
Another witness said he once saw a wound on Talovic's arm and asked about it.
"Talovic said he had previously gotten a swastika tattoo and had then removed it himself, by cutting it off," according to notes of the witness interview. Talovic said "he did not know what the swastika meant and stood for when he had gotten the tattoo." Talovic's family told agents he did not have a tattoo.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Tim Fuhrman on Friday said agents tried to corroborate just about everything credited to Talovic, but many things could not be verified. Among them: that Talovic claimed to have shot someone in a drug deal gone bad.
"People say things for different reasons," Fuhrman said. "I don't know what his would have been."
One person interviewed by the FBI quoted Talovic as saying: "You don't know how I really am. I am a crazy mother------." The same witness told the FBI Talovic said he hated "faggots" and was smoking opium and crystal meth.
The FBI found people who admitted selling marijuana to Talovic or smoking marijuana with him. Salt Lake City police, in a 2008 report on the shootings, said Talovic tested negative for drugs and alcohol in a postmortem examination.
One fellow Bosnian refugee told the FBI Talovic in spring 2006 said he shot guns in the basement of a home on "the East Side," according to notes of the refugee's interview. Talovic described the homeowner only as an American man with gray hair.
"Investigators were unable to identify this person, if he exists," an FBI agent wrote.
Talovic wore a necklace containing a miniature Quran during the attacks, documents say, and FBI agents asked many people about Talovic's Islamic faith. Family told agents Talovic once attended a mosque for prayers every Friday but stopped when he left school and began working. Co-workers did not observe Talovic praying during the day. The FBI found no evidence his religion was a factor.
Stacy Hanson, a Talovic victim who is confined to a wheelchair as a result, in an interview Friday said he was interested to learn the new details about Talovic, but still has questions about why he hurt and killed people.
"It doesn't change anything," Hanson said, "but it's nice to know something about this guy because our lives have been changed -- every single one of us."
"Available information indicates that only Talovic was involved in the shooting attack, that he did not commit the shooting as an act of jihad or a terrorist act, that no other person recruited Talovic to commit the attack or trained him to commit the attack, and that there are not others associated with Talovic who plan similar attacks."
"...Talovic may have chosen Trolley Square because he and his family had previously lived near the shopping mall, Talovic had played there often, and he was very familiar with this location."
"Available information indicates that Talovic was socially isolated and may have suffered from mental health issues, that he was using marijuana and possibly other drugs in the months prior to the attack, that he may have had a fascination about guns, may have thought about committing a shooting attack for years, held prejudicial beliefs against Serbs, homosexuals, and African Americans, and may have wanted to be viewed by others as an extremist or as notorious."
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