SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A shopping mall where five people were gunned down this week reopened Wednesday, as authorities tried to figure out why a teenage Bosnian immigrant committed the rampage and how he got his hands on a gun.
FBI agent Patrick Kiernan, in Salt Lake City, said the bureau had no reason to believe Sulejman Talovic, who was killed by police, was motivated by religious extremism or an act of terrorism.
“It’s just unexplainable,” Kiernan said Wednesday. “He was just walking around and shooting everybody he saw.”
Armed with a .38-caliber pistol, a shotgun and a backpack full of ammunition, Talovic shot nine people, five fatally, at the Trolley Square shopping center Monday before he was stopped by police, including an off-duty officer from Ogden.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating how the 18-year-old got the pistol.
“You can buy long guns at 18. That’s not a problem. The handgun he shouldn’t have had, so obviously we’re going to look at where he got that gun,” said Lori Dyer, in charge of the local ATF office.
Less than 48 hours after the shootings, police tape was removed from the parking lot as the mall reopened, although it was up to each shop owner whether to resume business.
A worker was repairing pillars damaged by shotgun blast outside Pottery Barn Kids and a card shop called Cabin Fever, where employees also were replacing products on shelves.
“We’re opening the mall, not in the sense of business as usual but to let the healing begin,” said Tom Bard, an executive at Scanlan Kemper Bard Cos. of Portland, Ore.
Investigators said they knew little about Talovic, except that he lived in Salt Lake City with his mother. He was enrolled in numerous city schools before withdrawing in 2004, the school district said.
Talovic and his family moved to the U.S. in 1998, after living as refugees in war-torn Bosnia for five years, people close to the family told The Associated Press. Talovic was only 4 when he and his mother fled their village of Talovici on foot after Serbian forces overran it in 1993, they said.
“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 in Talovic’s homeland somehow contributed to the Utah rampage, especially the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the northeastern enclave of Srebrenica. The boy had been in Srebrenica about two years before the massacre occurred, he said.
Talovic’s aunt, Ajka Onerovic, emerged briefly from the family’s house Tuesday to say relatives had no idea why the young man attacked so many strangers.
“He was a such a good boy. I don’t know what happened,” she told Salt Lake City television station KSL.
Talovic drove to Trolley Square _ a century-old former trolley barn with winding hallways, brick floors and wrought-iron balconies, and immediately killed two people, then a third as he came through a door, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said. Five other people were then shot in a gift shop, he said.
Four people who were wounded remained hospitalized Wednesday, two in critical condition, two in serious.
Outside the mall, candles and flowers were left as memorials to those killed, who were identified as Jeffrey Walker, 52, Vanessa Quinn, 29, Kirsten Hinkley, 15, Teresa Ellis, 29, and Brad Frantz, 24.
Off-duty Ogden police officer Kenneth K. Hammond, who was at the mall for an early Valentine’s Day dinner with his wife, was credited with helping stop the rampage. It was unclear whether he or one of the Salt Lake City officers who responded fired the shot that killed Talovic.
Hammond said Tuesday he first thought the sound of gunfire was construction noise but drew his gun and told his wife to call 911 when he realized what was happening.
Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner, who is also a state senator, said the state Senate wants to honor Hammond. But the 33-year-old said he doesn’t feel like a hero.
“We were there for a reason. I had my gun on me for a reason. We decided to eat dessert, which we never do, for a reason,” Hammond said. “Everything happened for a reason.”