After a Rampage, Trying to Grasp What Led a Son to Kill
By MARTIN STOLZ
Published: February 20, 2007
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 19 — At 1 a.m. last Tuesday, the parents of Sulejman
Talovic called the police to report him missing. After watching television
news coverage, they feared he might be among those dead or wounded in a
shooting rampage at a mall here. One hour later, with the arrival of
detectives, they discovered the shocking truth, that their son, 18, was the
In six minutes on the night of Feb. 12, Mr. Talovic shot nine customers at
the Trolley Square mall, killing five and seriously injuring four others.
The attack ended when the police shot and killed Mr. Talovic after he
refused to surrender his 12-gauge shotgun.
Mr. Talovic’s motive remains a mystery, investigators say.
In the week of grief and confusion since the shooting, the Talovic family
has been struggling to unearth some explanations. Their reflections,
inadequate as they may seem, revolve around a handful of formative
experiences: war in his native Bosnia, rejection at school and difficulty in
assimilating in the United States, they said Sunday in the living room of
his aunt’s tidy apartment.
If the public has come to see Mr. Talovic as a deranged killer, the family
knew him as a shy and generous boy.
The gunman’s aunt, Ajka Omerovic, and his father, who was visibly exhausted,
spoke to a reporter just hours after Mr. Talovic’s body was cleansed in an
Islamic ritual in preparation for its burial in Tuzla, Bosnia, expected
later this month, and after days of funerals for shooting victims across the
Salt Lake Valley.
At the funerals, two of the victims’ families called on the public to
forgive the teenager and to support his family in their sorrow.
The Talovics are saddened and bewildered, said the father, Suljo Talovic,
42. The last time he saw his son alive was at home after work, he said.
Sulejman had returned from his job at a uniform laundry company, showered
and left without comment. At 2 a.m., detectives came to the door and
informed the family of his crime and death. Within hours, Sabira Talovic,
Sulejman’s 37-year-old mother, collapsed and was hospitalized with what her
husband said was a heart attack.
“It’s very painful,” Suljo Talovic explained, his syntax slightly imperfect
but his message clear. “I have pain for my son. I have pain for everybody
who has died. I am sorry for everybody.”
The Talovics had no information on how Sulejman had obtained his weapons and
ammunition. The police could not be reached to comment on a report in The
Salt Lake Tribune that the shotgun had been bought legally at a sporting
In Bosnia, the Talovics lived on a small subsistence farm in the village of
Talovici. Suljo Talovic, also a carpenter, often worked on construction
projects in Switzerland and in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital. Until Serbian
forces began a siege of Talovici in April 1992, they said, theirs had been a
humble but happy life, surrounded by more than 100 relatives.
When the Serbian militias arrived, Suljo hid in the hills. In the village,
his family went without food for days at a stretch. Life was defined by
explosions and gunfire. The family said Sulejman, then 4, had seen his baby
sister die at home because of a lack of medicine. Some family members
believed he had seen his grandfather’s execution, though there was
disagreement over that.
After a year, Sabira escaped with Sulejman on foot and on a relief supply
truck to Srebrenica. Some weeks later, her husband was reunited with the
family in Tuzla, where they remained for several years.
In 1998, Sulejman and his family moved to Utah, where his aunt, Ms. Omerovic,
the sister of Suljo, had established roots. In the Sunday interview, Ms.
Omerovic expressed gratitude to Americans, who she said had helped the
refugees to “forget about the war,” a sentiment expressed repeatedly in
recent days by Bosnian-Americans in Utah.
Sulejman, a bashful child, struggled with English and with relationships.
Ms. Omerovic, who sometimes supervised him as a dishwasher at the Utah Jazz
arena, said she had seen her nephew joking with co-workers. “He was willing
to be friendly,” she said. “He just didn’t find his way on how to do it.”
In 2004, two classmates threatened Sulejman with a knife, his father said.
His mother, frightened, then signed a form releasing him from attending
school, the family said.
Sulejman began accompanying his father to construction jobs, and he readily
handed over his earnings to help his parents and three younger sisters.
Police investigators are now trying to assemble a psychological profile of
His father, who says he abhors violence, said that perhaps his son had been
affected by an accumulation of bad experiences, “a little bit, little bit,
little bit, and after too much, he’s like an explosion.”
The Talovics said they wished they could question Sulejman and understand
the shooting. Ms. Omerovic said the Bosnian civil war alone as an
explanation made no sense to her because all Bosnians had been “touched by
war” but had not committed crimes.
“We are praying to God,” the aunt said, “and asking God to forgive Sulejman
for what he did and to forgive his soul.”