Bosnians fear backlash in Salt Lake City killings

From AP, via the Carlsbad Current Argus, Feb. 15:

Salt Lake City – Officials fear a backlash against the Bosnian community, while family friends suggested a Bosnian teen’s experiences as a refugee may have fueled his deadly rampage through a mall Monday.

Ljubica Roth, president of the Utah Consortium of Multicultural Groups, an organization that works with refugees and immigrants, said she received six reports on Wednesday of Bosnians in Salt Lake City being accosted verbally – mostly about how they got into the country, she said, or whether they intended to commit violence.

“Many people didn’t go to work today because they were worried about it,” Roth said.

Officials scheduled an outdoor vigil for tonight downtown, with Bosnians and non-Bosnians invited to speak and share their grief.

Police investigators said they still did not know what made the killer, Sulejmen Talovic, drive to the Trolley Square mall just before 7 p.m. and open fire, killing five and wounding four. Talovic was later shot dead.

Talovic had worked a regular day’s shift – ending at 5 p.m. – at a company that supplies uniforms to businesses, his boss said.

Talovic, a legal U.S. resident with a green card, arrived with his family from Croatia in 1998.

Few neighbors remembered him, but they described the other Talovic family members, including his younger sisters, his mother and his father – a truck driver who was often away – as quiet, respectable and self-contained. Others described the lanky boy as a loner who dressed in black.

“We are Muslims, but we are not terrorists,” the boy’s aunt, Ajka Omerovic, said Wednesday at the family’s house.

She rejected any religious motive and said the family can’t explain the shooting. The Talovic family fled Bosnia for Utah “to be free,” she said.

Talovic lived with his parents and three younger sisters in a tiny ranch house. His parents, Suljo and Sabira Talovic, do not speak English well and have refused to answer the door.

People close to the family still living in Bosnia told reporters that Talovic was only 4 when he and his mother fled their village of Talovici on foot after Serbian forces overran it in 1993.

“Many left the village, but only a few made it,” said Murat Avdic, a friend of the family.

Up to 200,000 people were killed and 1.8 million others lost their homes in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. Avdic said he was convinced the war somehow contributed to the Utah rampage, especially the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in Srebrenica two years after Talovic lived there.

See our last posts on the Balkans and Bosnia.

  1. By some accounts…
    Sulejmen Talovic was a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre. From Reuters, via Croatia’s Javno, Feb. 14:

    The 18-year-old gunman who shot dead five people in a Salt Lake City shopping mall was a survivor of the siege that ended in the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, a cousin said on Wednesday.

    Sulejman Talovic, who was killed by police after Monday’s shooting spree in which he also wounded four people, fled his village with his family during the Bosnia war to Srebrenica, a U.N.-protected enclave, Redzo Talovic said.

    They spent two years in the town, during which Bosnian Serb forces besieged the enclave and Sulejman’s grandfather was killed by shellfire, Redzo said.

    When the Bosnian Serbs overran the town in 1995, taking away and massacring some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Sulejman and his mother were evacuated by the United Nations and later reunited with his father, Redzo said.

    “They were a good, quiet family and I remember that he was a nice kid when he was four or five, maybe a little bit playful,” he said, standing in front of the burnt-out shell of Sulejman’s family home in the village of Talovici, eastern Bosnia.

    “No one could have supposed that he was going to do such a thing,” Redzo said. “Who knows what made him do that?” He could not say what marks Sulejman’s childhood memories of wartime Bosnia had left on him.

    Redzo said he was in shock when he heard the news.

    “I couldn’t believe it. I heard that his parents are dumbfounded, they can’t believe he did that,” said Redzo, one of the few villagers to have returned to Talovici.

    Sulejman and his family never visited Bosnia or kept in touch after moving to the United States as refugees in 2000, Redzo said.

    Police said Sulejman and his mother had lived in Salt Lake City for a few years, during which he had four minor incidents with police as a juvenile.

    The teenager, dressed in a trench coat and carrying a shotgun, a .38 caliber pistol and what police said was a “backpack full of ammunition,” opened fire at random on Monday evening, sending terrified shoppers running for cover.

    Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank said the gunman seemed determined to “shoot as many people as he possibly could.”

    An off-duty police officer opened fire and stopped the youth from moving further through the mall before he was killed by police who arrived in force. Two men, two women and a 15-year-old girl died and four people were wounded.