Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Buk Mawut Buk’s Friday court appearance.
The 22-year-old man suspected of fatally shooting University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe at a September house party was charged Wednesday in connection with the slaying.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office charged Buk Mawut Buk with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, possession of a firearm by a restricted person and obstruction of justice, court records show.
If convicted, aggravated murder charges in Utah can carry the death penalty. Prosecutors will make that decision after the case’s preliminary hearing.
Lowe, 21, was killed at the party in Sugar House after uninvited guests, including Buk, were asked to leave, according to a probable cause document filed in the case. An initial contact report recently obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune states there were “multiple fights” throughout the night at the party, “so the host began kicking people out.”
When investigators interviewed Buk after his Oct. 3 arrest, he denied he was at the party.
According to charging documents, witnesses told investigators that Lowe, Buk and others got into an argument in front of Lowe’s car just before the shooting. Fuamoli Pomale, 20, and a witness said they had tried to wind down the argument when a man, later identified as Buk, walked across the street and starting shooting.
Pomale was shot multiple times and remained in critical condition as of Oct. 3, police said. A district attorney’s office spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the woman was alive but declined to give additional details about her condition. Charging documents state that she was shot in the chest and neck, causing damage to her spinal cord and other soft tissues, which rendered her unable to speak.
She typed her answers to investigators’ questions or answered with non-verbal gestures, records state.
Shooting stemmed from argument
Pomale said the argument started when Lowe tried to move his car and four men wouldn’t move out of the way. Another witness told police they saw Buk grab a gun from another man at the party who was sitting in a detached garage. The witness said Buk then walked out of the garage with the gun and “the shooting occurred within seconds.”
One partygoer captured some of the shooting on video. It shows a man walking across the street and lifting his hand to his midsection, charging documents state. He appeared to be holding a “dark object.” After he walks out of the frame, the footage picked up two gunshots.
Moments later, it shows the man standing on a park strip in front of Lowe and Pomale, who were on the ground.
Pomale told investigators that Buk had come over to “finish them off.” The person filming the shooting then ran away, but video captured the sounds of at least five more shots, documents state. Detectives have not found the gun.
The shooting happened hours after the University of Utah football team’s homecoming win against Washington State on Sept. 25.
Lowe, a Utes cornerback from Mesquite, Texas, played that day wearing the No. 22 jersey he had donned each game this season as a tribute to his high school teammate and friend, Ty Jordan. The 19-year-old Utes running back died in December of an apparent accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
At the time of the early Sept. 26 shooting, Buk was still on probation for two robberies that he had been convicted of committing in 2019. The robberies were part of a series of crimes that Buk had been charged with in recent years, court records show.
Buk remains in Salt Lake County jail, where he is being held without bail. He appeared in court Friday during a brief hearing, represented by public defender Michael Milsner. Another hearing is slated for Oct. 22.
The district attorney’s office spokesman this week declined to say if anyone else was under criminal investigation in connection with the shooting.
Escalating criminal history
Buk was arrested last year after an officer stopped a stolen car in Salt Lake City on Nov. 1. Police found a stolen handgun on the floorboard near where Buk said he had been sitting, court records show, and in his pocket, police found ammunition consistent with the caliber of the recovered weapon.
Charges against him of gun possession and theft by receiving stolen property were dismissed, and he pleaded guilty only to failing to stop at the command of law enforcement, records show.
At his March sentencing, where Buk was ordered to serve 115 days in jail, the prosecutor had a warning for Buk.
“He needs to understand,” Roger Blaylock said, “that if he’s going to be running around with people with firearms in the car, he’s going to have much more serious problems and probably end up in prison.”
Buk at the time said he regretted the incident. “It was just me being around the wrong people at the wrong time,” he said, telling the judge that it “won’t happen again.”
Third District Judge Chelsea Koch revoked but then reinstated Buk’s probation from his robbery convictions, and told him to be careful about who he affiliated with while he continued to be monitored. With credit for time served, Buk was released from jail in March.
The stolen gun that police found in the car was later linked to a Millcreek homicide that had occurred weeks earlier, Sgt. Melody Cutler of the Unified Police Department said in a recent interview.
Casings collected from the scene of the fatal Oct. 18, 2020, shooting were fired from the same weapon found in the stolen car that Buk was in, Cutler said.
That homicide remains under investigation and Buk is not considered a suspect, Cutler said. The gun was reported stolen in Wyoming on Oct. 14, 2020, she said, declining to comment further.
Defending his office’s handling of Buk’s 2020 case, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill noted multiple people had been in the stopped car, and “we could not definitively attach any one person to a gun” based on available evidence. Buk pleaded to the charge “for which we had the evidence,” Gill said.
The robberies for which Buk was on probation occurred in 2019 — the first in May, the second in October, records indicate. Both victims had intended to buy iPhones through KSL classifieds before they were robbed.
During the May 2019 crime, the robber was not armed, the victim said. In October 2019, a father and his daughter were robbed by two men — one with a knife, the other with a BB gun, records show. A Unified Police Department officer found Buk and his accomplice “crouched in a backyard behind some bushes,” a court filing states. The May 2019 victim identified Buk as a suspect following news coverage of the October 2019 robbery.
Four cases against Buk were combined into one resolution on June 8, 2020: The two iPhone robberies in May and October 2019, and two allegations that Buk had given police false personal information — once in February 2019 and again as police investigated a trespassing call in August 2019.
He was sentenced to one year in jail and three years on probation. With credit for 240 days served, Buk was released Sept. 1, 2020, according to Salt Lake County jail records, two months before his November arrest.
Prior cases dismissed
From 2017 to 2019, a series of separate cases filed against Buk — including burglary and animal cruelty charges — were dismissed due to confusion over his birthdate and whether he was a minor.
Buk was born in Sudan, and after his mother died, he fled to Kenya when he was a child to live with his stepmother, court records state. The two came to the U.S. as refugees in 2011. His stepmother did not know when he was born, and Buk was assigned a birthdate of Jan. 1, 1999, according to Buk’s attorney in a 2019 case.
But a handwritten birth certificate, sent by relatives after Buk’s stepmother contacted them, appeared to have been issued by the Republic of South Sudan and listed Buk’s birth date as Nov. 19, 2001, the attorney noted.
At an address listed in court records for Buk’s stepmother, Elizabeth Bol, a woman who identified herself as Elizabeth on Oct. 6 said she was confused about what prompted Buk’s arrest. After she spoke with The Salt Lake Tribune for about a minute, a girl standing behind the woman instructed her to close the door. The family declined further comment.
When a refugee is accused of a serious crime, the news ripples through the entire refugee community, according to the heads of agencies that assist refugees living in Utah.
“The story is about one person who [allegedly] committed a heinous crime. We don’t want the whole group to be judged by the act of one individual,” said Asha Parekh, director of the state of Utah’s Refugee Services Office. “That’s not fair, and it’s not right.”
The state agency assists about 12,000 people a year, Parekh said. It works with resettlement agencies and other organizations that provide support and services to refugees, such as job training and school placement.
News reports that mention a suspect’s refugee status can be “frustrating” to volunteers, said Aden Batar, migration and refugee services director for Catholic Community Services of Utah.
“Refugees do not come here to commit crimes,” said Batar, who came to the U.S. from Somalia. “They’re here to rebuild their lives. These families want their children to go to school, and get the opportunity they didn’t have.”
— Tribune reporter Jordan Miller contributed to this story.